April 17, 2016
A reminder to readers: We’re in the thick of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will continue to cover the Gospel of Mark over the next few months.
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.
Have you ever gotten a new title in your life? Perhaps you became a manager, a director or maybe even the owner of a business. There are other titles we also receive, like father, mother or grandfather. If you are a pastor, there is that moment when you go from being a lay person to being an ordained pastor. Overnight, you are suddenly called Reverend. Over the years, I’ve had quite a few titles given to me, ranging from husband and father, to Reverend, Doctor, and President. Sometimes, if we are honest, it takes time to grow into our new skin. This is kind of what happens in this passage.
Up to this point, this group of fishermen who have decided to follow Jesus have just been known as followers or disciples of Jesus. But, now that they have returned from their first preaching mission, they are called apostles. This is the first time the followers of Jesus are called apostles. Now, that’s a big title. They were fairly content being in the “Jesus cheering section.” They could stand in the background and wave their pom-poms while Jesus was healing the sick or teaching the multitudes. They were accustomed to being Jesus’ managers: crowd control, end of the day feedback or just soaking in the master’s wisdom.
So when a large crowd gathered to hear Jesus and it was getting late in the day, they went into basic management mode and told Jesus that they should send the crowd away so they could go to the surrounding villages and get something to eat. Instead, they got a big shock. Jesus turns to them and says no, “you give them something to eat.” What is Jesus thinking? He’s the miracle worker. He’s the one who heals the sick. He’s the one who gives these spell bound, timeless sermons like the Sermon on the Mount. He’s God in the flesh, we’re just ordinary people in ordinary flesh.
But, Jesus does it. He says, it is time for you to step up to the plate and start being apostles: “You give them something to eat.” The disciples, er… apostles, go into panic mode. There are five thousand people and all they have are two fish and five small loaves of bread. Jesus extends grace to them by guiding them one more time. He instructs them to get everyone seated in groups, then Jesus blesses the bread and begins to break it and give it to those gathered. Everyone ate and was fully satisfied. They even had twelve basketfuls left over! Jesus is the Manna Man, just like the days of Moses!
There was a well-known Jewish prophecy (based on Deut. 18:15 and Isaiah 25:6) that one of the authenticating signs of the true Messiah would be that he would re-enact the miracle of the manna which had happened to Moses in the wilderness. The feeding of the 5,000 is widely believed to be the fulfillment of that great expectation, which is why it is the only miracle in the public ministry of Jesus which is found in all four gospels.
But, the amazing thing is that if Philip (or you or me) had taken up that piece of bread that day and blessed it and asked God to multiply it, the miracle would have happened just as surely as the one recorded in the gospels. Indeed, Jesus said that “greater works than these shall you do” (John 14:12). We are to reproduce the ministry of Jesus in the world, not because we have any power or authority on our own, but because we are abiding in him and we are his ambassadors in the world. Can you believe it? God still multiplies bread in the world at the Eucharist and through each and every one of us.
Are you prepared to be God’s vessel this day? Are you ready for God to bless someone through you today?
The Sunday Daily Text through Mark’s Gospel is written by Timothy Tennent. Visit his blog here.