Devotional—Mark 6: 30–44 Feeding the five thousand
The Twelve apostles returned to Jesus in Capernaum. Immediately they reported to Jesus their experiences of teaching and healing. There must have been excitement along with satisfaction. Jesus had given authority to heal and to teach, and they apparently had success on their journeys.
When they came and reported, it was almost like Jesus had not listened to them. He said: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest awhile.” It was a busy time for them. People were coming and going so much that Jesus and the Twelve had no time to relax and talk. It was like a little earlier when the people pressed Jesus so hard that he broke down. This time was the same in that they were so busy with the people that they did not even have time to eat.
They stepped into the boat once again and sailed to what they hoped was a lonely place. The sailboat was approximately twenty feet in length, so for thirteen men to be on board, it was somewhat crowded. As they were sailing not far from land, the followers could see them and ran down the path alongside the sea. So when they landed, there was a very large crowd waiting for them. Mark estimates five thousand men. That is the way people were counted in that day. In early America people were also counted if they were males who owned land. They were the only people who were able to vote. So as far as the crowd waiting for Jesus and the Twelve, it might have been around twenty thousand including the women and children.
How Jesus was able to teach such a large group is hard to imagine. In ancient Greece, even in the acoustically sound arenas, it was figured that only the front portion was able to hear. So when they voted on an issue, only a minority could hear what the vote was about. Despite the size of the crowd, Jesus had compassion on them because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
When the sun was getting low, the Twelve came to Jesus and asked him to conclude his work and send the crowd away. As Mark said about sheep without a shepherd, the people must have simply followed Jesus and forgot about how long they would be gone and their possible need for food. Many of them were accustomed to sleeping under the stars, so the problem was how to feed such a large group. The Twelve basically didn’t care about the crowd. If the crowd had to go without a meal, that was no great concern for them. In spite of this, they were concerned about how they could feed them, and they were practical. There is no way they would be able to feed twenty thousand people. So the only solution for them was to have Jesus send the crowd away.
Jesus’s compassion extended to taking care of these “children.” Jesus ordered his apostles to feed the crowd, and that left them bewildered. Surely Jesus would realize they would have a difficult time obeying him. Apparently they had enough money to feed the crowd in their treasury because they reminded Jesus that to feed a crowd this size would take two hundred denarii, that is, over half a year’s wages.
Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin were the only villages nearby. The largest of them was Capernaum, which had a population of fifteen hundred. And there were no bakeries in any of the three villages that could come up with that many loaves of bread.
It seems that the practicality of the apostles overwhelmed their compassion. “Please, Master, send them away.” These men had grown up to take over their fathers’ businesses, so they did have the knowledge of their limitations to cope with this problem.
What amazes me is that they had just returned from missions in which Jesus had given them the power to heal. The men apparently made no transfer of that lesson to the current situation. They were like the crowd that acted like sheep without a shepherd.
Two hundred denarii would be the equivalent of over twenty thousand dollars today. It is obvious they had considered the various options available to them as responsible citizens and failed to see any solutions. In light of this, Jesus ordered them to gather up all the food they were able to, and all they could collect was five loaves of bread and two fish.
Jesus issued another order to organize the crowd into groups of fifty and of one hundred. It was like they were going to have a huge banquet with feasting. Mark takes the time to specify that the grass on which they would be sitting was green, so the ground would be somewhat soft.
Imagine the massive area these groups must have covered. On average there would have been seventy-five groups of fifty to one hundred men and women reclining in preparation to eat. In those days, people reclined when they ate a meal. They did not sit at a table like we do.
When everyone was settled, Jesus took what he had: five loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and blessed the food. He then broke the food into pieces and passed it to the twelve in order to distribute to the groups. When every person had eaten, he/she was full and satisfied just like he/she had eaten at a formal banquet.
After every person was satisfied, the remaining food was gathered, and there were still twelve baskets full of bread and fish, which was more than what they began with. What happened? Was it magic? Was it God creating as he did in Genesis: “Let there be light, and there was light.” Did Jesus’s compassion inspire the kindness and generosity of the people, so they all shared the little that they had for themselves? Who knows? The general point is that Jesus had compassion on the crowd. He realized that they were like wandering souls in the wilderness, and he had compassion on them and loved them.
Jesus has the same compassion for all of us. He knows that we are at times rootless and drifting, and all we need is someone to listen to us and have compassion on us. Jesus has been there. He knows what it means to be alive in this occasionally confusing world. Jesus is with us. That is the source of strength we need in order to continue walking through our lives, regardless of how long we live and regardless of what part of our lives we are in. God is with us and does have compassion on us.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for your compassionate presence in our lives. Amen.
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