#44: Feeding the Five Thousand

Mark 6:30–44

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

There are a few great miracle stories in the life of Jesus. Calming the storm, walking on water and the great feasts of the 5,000 and 4,000. Healing the sick and driving out demons is one thing but these sort of miracles take the whole ‘Who is he and what could he achieve?’ questions on to a higher place. There is one, even greater miracle still to come which will raise the bar even higher, and that is the resurrection.

Is it worth the waiting for?
If we live till eighty four,
All we ever get is gru…el.
Every day we say our prayer,
Will they change the bill of fare?
Still we get the same old gru…el!
There’s not a crust, nor a crumb can we find,
Can we beg, can we borrow or cadge.
But there is nothing to stop us from getting a thrill,
When we all close our eyes and imag…ine.
Food, glorious food.

Everybody loves this song from ‘Oliver’. My favourite bit is the fourth line.

Meals, along with all the friendship, hospitality, conversation and relationship building that go with them are very important in the Jesus story. In today’s church we love meetings, usually with agendas, that is how we get things done, how we do our business. For Jesus, however, the business was people, the meeting was usually a sit down to eat and drink and the agenda ‘So how can God help you with your life’. Jesus liked meetings where there was a real meeting (people meeting people and people meeting God).

A few years ago I designed a series of evangelistic weekends based around what I thought of as the ‘four great Jesus feasts’:

  • The Levi Party – a gathering in his own home, at which his friends could meet Jesus.
  • The Last Supper – bread and wine becoming his body and blood and open to everyone.
  • The Resurrection Breakfast – a Sunday morning service which literally incorporated breakfast and an opportunity to experience the ‘alive again’ Jesus.
  • The Feeding of the 5,000 – on the weekend this would usually take the form of a great day out or barbeque etc., at which a special treat was brought forward as a sort of inspirational gift to all.

In those days when I talked about the feeding of the 5,000 I dwelt on the crowd who were drawn to Jesus looking for teaching, for his special touch. Then I would talk about Jesus being ‘the bread of life’ and meeting our hunger for life.

In recent years however, looking at my own ministry and that of other people in our church, many of whom are new Christians, I have flicked over to John’s story of the feeding. There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, John 6:19. He is a generous boy or perhaps it is meeting Jesus that brings out the generosity in him. Mixing with Jesus’ followers over many years I have always found that there are some generous followers, some very un-generous ones and then there are people like me. I am by nature not that generous but as I spend time with Jesus he increases my willingness and joyfulness in giving. I am convinced that today Jesus still needs people like that young boy to give up their own meal so that others may be fed.

Frankly I find it easy to become resentful at how much time, love, prayer and money I give to the church or others. Then I get excited when I think of myself as a small boy offering Jesus my bit of food for him to use in his big feeding.

Lord Jesus,
I offer my bread
To you, the Bread of Life.
I offer my fish,
To the great Fisher of Men.
May you bless my offered gift ,
That others might be blessed.