KEY SCRIPTURE Mark 6:30-44 I recommend reading the passage first without trying to think you know it already. (No offence)
APPLICATION What was the message in feeding the 5000? I think it emphasises the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and the long pathway to transitioning the disciples from a servant mentality to sonship, which they didn't seem to get at this stage.
It commences with the disciples talking to Jesus about their recent sojourn into casting out spirits and healing people after Jesus gave them power. Following that, they took the now-dead John the Baptist to a burial plot.
Their new sovereignty-induced assignment was exciting stuff, and they were still on a high. But the crowd was noisy, so Jesus told them to get into a boat and sail to a desert place for a more private discussion.
Life follows a central beat, the sine wave of our hearts—first, a peak, then a trough, another peak, and so on. I feel God has arranged it that way. After the peak excitement comes the trough of temptation when our guard is down. Unbeknown to these freshly-empowered disciples, a temptation, a failing, was on its way.
Jesus wasn't tempting them, for He doesn't tempt anyone. (James 1:13). Like us, it was just their reactions to circumstances.
They set sail from the over-populated shore, but some of the crowd saw Jesus and ran along the edge of the Galilee sea, their eyes on Him, estimating the place of mooring and disembarkment—the desert place.
So much for the private talk. The crowd arrived before the boat.
This swarm of ardent followers was closer to 15,000 (5000 men plus women and kids), equivalent to a small town about the size of Ocean Grove, Victoria.
When Jesus the true shepherd saw them, He was "moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things."
Yet, what did the disciples do? This moment was their time to declare to Jesus all the healings and wonders they had done. To them, the crowd was a nuisance, an imposition, and pesty.
They let Jesus converse with the horde for a while, but as it got darker, they told Jesus to "Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat."
Would real shepherds dismiss people in need? And can you imagine 15,000 people converging on the local takeaway shops for fish and chips?
The disciples failed to see that these people were their own new flesh and blood, spiritual brothers and sisters. They didn't pass the extra-mile test, not recognising that with their great power came the great responsibility of tending the sheep. They were now shepherds.
Even without a shepherd, sheep gather together. It's called banding or flocking instinct. We've seen them do this in roadside paddocks. Yet all sheep require a shepherd who understands their needs and will guide them in the way they must go. If not for Jesus, this gathering could have become a massive argument between the disciples and the new followers. To the disciples, this time was out of season, and they weren't ready.
Jesus, in response to their uncaring manner, put it back on them, "Give ye them to eat," or "Hey, why don't you guys feed them?"
Their counter-argument was quite arrogant. A bit cheeky for servants. "Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?" or "what do you expect us to do, put all our money together and shout them a feed?
A pennyworth was a day's wages for an unskilled labourer. (Matthew 20:2), equating to about seven months' wages. What would out-of-work disciples returning from a mission trip be doing with that sort of money?
We see a complete lack of understanding of the scenario about to unfold. After their blessed hard work healing and delivering the lost, damaged and possessed, these future joint-shepherds of the Kingdom fell well short of love for the other sheep.
Then Mark depicts Jesus as switching roles, going from Shepherd of sheep to Commander. "And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties." A strange choice of words, much like Moses' use of his commander skills when laying out the camp of Israel.
Jesus made a point of saying green grass. Where would anyone find green grass in a desert place? This statement is reminiscent of King David's 23rd Psalm, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures."
Green grass is a symbol of righteous blessing. And the removal of it is the opposite.
Ex 10:15-16 (The Locusts) Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt.Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, "I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you."
Job 15:1, 31-32 "Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:…. Let him not trust in emptiness, deceiving himself, for emptiness will be his payment. It will be paid in full before his time, and his branch will not be green."
This green imagery shows us that even when life seems arid or bare, we're in the best hands when following our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Jesus blessed the group.
After Jesus asked His disciples how many fish and bread they had (five loaves and two fish), barely enough for themselves, He blessed the loaves and fishes and fed the temporary desert town of people to the degree that "they did all eat, and were filled."
Indeed they were filled physically, spiritually and emotionally. There is also a subtle meaning of spiritual coalescence between the disciples, the group, and Jesus.
I think breaking bread was a type of communion that the disciples still did not perceive long after. How do we know that? Directly after this faith experience in the desert, the disciples endured the famous trial one on the sea, where they panicked until Jesus walked to them on the water. Mark 6:51-52 "And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened."
The disciples should have displayed faith in Jesus to have the food under control and a shepherd's love for the multitude, rather than a blunt dismissal or seeking human ways to accomplish the task.
To emphasise the importance of the lesson, "They took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes." One basket of scraps to empty for each disciple.
Furthermore, this scenario has similarities & opposites to the Exodus of the Israelites.
Sheep without a shepherd. The early Israelites needed Moses, the shepherd and commander, to lead them.
Voluntarily followed Moses. Sure God commanded the Israelites to follow specific directions if they wanted freedom, but it was still their choice to follow.
They were each taken to a Desert Place. Both would have been green, but the early Israelites chose not to see the blessings.
Both fed on basic food produced by a miracle.
It took the disciples some time to fully know and trust their Lord and Saviour, as it does with us. On their mission trip, they used the power wisely and faithfully, but now they became selfish, and their faith waned. They could no longer see that Jesus was Lord over all, and that even the environment obeyed His commands. I feel they would have looked back much later in humble embarrassment at their spiritual blockage, as we all do.
With that information, we can quickly see how they could have fixed their shortsighted faithlessness, but do we see our own current failings? Hindsight faith is useless, as it does nothing at the time. Jesus calls us to trust Him in all the peaks and troughs of sine wave experiences; to exalt Him in our down times and those of great heights and glory; to call upon Him for food in our desert places, and to praise Him while we wait for it. Then, we travel the journey of growing into the sonship and joint-heirship with the living Christ.
PRAYER Dear Lord, thank you for the failings of your precious disciples, as it gives me hope for myself. I see more in this story now and reflect on my walk with you and the trust issues I've only recognised later. Please help me understand that even in the desert places, I will stand on the green grass of blessing when I praise, glorify and keep my focus on you.
Photo by Davide Ragusa