By Rev. Mark Reece
The account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle story that we find in all four of the gospel narratives. In the Gospel of Mark, the story is found in the sixth chapter. Jesus instructed the disciples to go out to a deserted place and rest.
They were apparently tired and had been so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat. But there was no rest for the tired disciples because there was a multitude of people who were hungry for what Jesus had to offer. They recognized the disciples who traveled by boat. Apparently the crowd was so anxious to see Jesus that they took the long route around the water and beat them to the shore. The text says in verse 34 that Jesus “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
The disciples on the other hand didn’t initially share in Jesus’ compassion. They were ready to eat their food and they were tired. They had a little food for themselves. So they commanded Jesus to send the crowds away from them to find their own food and rest. Jesus’ response is one of the most powerful in all of the New Testament record: “Give them something to eat.” They were bewildered. How were they going to come up with anything for all of these needy people? Jesus offers another powerful response. Essentially he says we’re going to use the resources that we have. So they went and discovered that they only had five loaves and two fish. And Jesus took what they had and he went to work. Jesus blessed what they had. He took the loaves, gave them to the disciples to “set before the people.” He divided the fish among them all.
There is much more to this story than a miracle if we pay particular attention to the dialogue present between Jesus and the disciples. He’s teaching them what it means to serve when you’re running out of steam. Indeed, this is the Jesus who feeds the physically hungry throughout the Gospels. The hunger emphasis in this passage is not limited to our physical hunger though. It was not physical hunger that drew the crowds to follow Jesus. As soon as Jesus got off the boat he fed them with his teaching. The disciples thought they were going away to a deserted place where they could rest and keep Jesus all to themselves. The disciples thought they could call a big “time-out” on their mission and be comfortable for a while. But the sense of urgency that we find all throughout the Gospel of Mark takes root in Jesus’ command: “Give them something to eat.”
This passage is really all about sharing, an interpretation I first heard from Barbara Brown Taylor. God has called us as a church to share what we have and not keep it to ourselves. We share our food through the Community Garden, Friendship Meal and the Foothills Food Pantry. We’re also called to share every dimension of our church campus with those who have spiritual and physical hunger. There are no exceptions to feeding the hungry when it comes to those sheep without a shepherd. They’re close to the heart of Jesus. When I look at the world and our community I often wonder if we have the resources to even make a dent in our society. Then I look at this passage and I’m reminded that Jesus took the resources that they had and he accomplished something great. Without Jesus’ help, all the disciples had were two loaves and five pieces of fish. But with Jesus, they had more power than they ever imagined. Who is hungry this week? What is their hunger? Jesus says “give them something to eat.”
Mark Reece is the pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Grove.