I wonder when the last time you were hungry was? I really dislike feeling hungry, I tend to get grumpy. And I find that I feel hungrier when I’m not doing very much. If I’m just sitting in front of the TV, I find myself wandering into the kitchen in search of a snack. But if I’m out and about doing things, working on a project in the garden, I can work through a meal time and not really notice it. In today’s reading from Mark’s good news of Jesus life, we encounter lots of hungry people.
But, before we dive into the well known story, I’d like to just take a moment to have a look at what had been happening just before this. In the first verse that we heard, Mark writes, “The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” For me this prompts the question, what had they been up to? Well, if you want the details you can read back in the first part of chapter 6, but in summary, they had been on a mission trip. Jesus had sent them out to tell people about the good news of the kingdom of God, and to heal people. They had been and done that, and now they were reporting back to Jesus.
It had been a successful trip, but now they were tired, and there were so many people around that they had not even had chance to grab a bite to eat.
As I was preparing for this morning, that little phrase really popped out at me, “they did not even have a chance to eat.” This is the starting place for this story. The apostles had been out, faithfully doing what Jesus had told them to do, and they were hungry, they hadn’t had anything to eat. So, Jesus took them away from the crowd, away from the press, on a boat trip to the other side of the lake, so that they could get some peace and quiet, so that they could rest and eat. That was the idea anyway.
But as soon as the people saw Jesus and his friends get into the boat to leave, they ran around the shore to meet them.
That was the second thing that popped out of this passage for me. They ran. I wonder what you run for. Literally, when was the last time you ran? Some people run for pleasure or exercise. I don’t think this was that. Sometimes we might have to run to get out of danger.
Perhaps we might run for a bus. Or what if we see someone that we love, that we haven’t seen for a long time, we might run to them. What would you run for? These people ran for Jesus, for an opportunity to hear him teach, to spend time with him. Would I run for that?
Anyway, they ran so hard that they got to the place Jesus was heading for and were there waiting for him, and the disciples.
I wonder how the disciples felt. Remember, they had just returned from a fruitful but tiring ministry trip. They hadn’t had chance to eat. They’d been promised some R&R, and they’d just been working, sailing the boat across the lake. I wonder how I’d feel in that situation. On my good days I hope that I’d be like Jesus, moved with compassion and willing to go that extra mile to minister to the people who were coming with all their hopes, fears and hungers to Jesus. That I would be able to see them as Jesus saw them, as sheep without a shepherd, needing care and feeding. On my not so good days, I suspect that there would be some resentment, some crossness, some disappointment.
However they felt, Jesus took the lead, and started to teaching, and teaching, and teaching. The sun was going down, there was an evening chill coming across the lake, it was getting late. And the disciples come to him, point this out, and suggests that it is time to send the crowd away to eat. I wonder how much this was concern for the crowd and how much it was a reminder to Jesus that they still hadn’t eaten, and the whole point of coming over to this side of the lake was to have a break and have opportunity to get an undisturbed meal.
And what does Jesus say to his hungry disciples? “You give them something to eat”.
To people who Jesus knew hadn’t even had time to eat themselves, he says, “You give them something to eat.”
At this point, I am filled with admiration for the self restraint of the disciples. I think that I might have been tempted to explode with righteous indignation.
“We haven’t got anything to eat. You brought us here so that we could have a break, so that we could eat. And we haven’t been able to do that because of all these other people you are talking to.”
But no, they avoid that temptation, but they do have an objection. They don’t believe that they have the resources they need. They see the problem, lots of hungry people, but the only solution they can think of is to go and buy bread. As a side note it’s interesting to me that they don’t say that they don’t have the money required. They ask whether Jesus really wants them to spend that much on bread. It’s a small point, and I’m not sure I fully understand it’s implications, but it might be worth pondering on.
Anyway. Jesus asks them what they do have. Jesus starting point is with what is in their hands. Not the difficulties, or what they don’t have, but what they do have, be it ever so small and humble. “What do you have?” Jesus asks, “go and see.”
When they’ve gone to see, it is little. It is humble. It is five loaves and two fish. It’s a packed lunch for one or two people. Loaves here aren’t the nice big feed a family loaves, think rolls or buns. It is a small amount of food. It is a very small amount of food.
I wonder if you can imagine 5,000 men and their families sat on a field, in groups of 50 or 100. We’re talking, what 15,000 people. There are about 100 people here this morning. So imagine us all, sat out on the grass in the churchyard, a group of 100. How much room would we take up? Now picture 150 of those groups. How much room would they take up – two or three football pitches? Can you hear the hubbub of all those people chattering, wondering what’s happening, babies crying?
Look down at the small meal, and look up at the crowd, spread out in the sunset light, on the green grass. Look down. Look up. Feel the disconnect.
Jesus looks down and looks up. But he looks up further than the crowd, he looks up to heaven, to his Father, and gave thanks. He started from a place of gratitude and trust, and then began to break the bread and hand it to his disciples, who passed it out to the crowd. I wonder if there was a lull in the noise as people started to eat. The smell of fresh bread and fish spreading over the hill side as more and more food is broken, shared, and eaten. They all ate and were satisfied. All of them. The crowd and the disciples. And more than that, there was more than just enough. There were left overs for the disciples to gather up. Twelve baskets full of more than enough.
As we’ve been exploring this story today, I wonder where you would picture yourself in the story?
I wonder what you’re hungry for.
Perhaps you identify with those in the crowd, wanting to hear more from Jesus, hungry for something to sustain your soul. You feel like you’re running after him. Perhaps you feel a bit lost, like a sheep that longs for shepherd to look after you, to care for you, to feed you. If that’s you, Jesus is looking at you with compassion. He wants to spend time with you, to teach you his way, to provide for you. He’s here for you today.
Perhaps you identify with the disciples. You feel like you’ve been doing the work, that you’re tired and need a rest, and need to eat yourself but you don’t see how it can happen. To be honest there’s not a lot of comfort in this story, except, perhaps, this. It is often when we come to the end of ourselves, and even beyond what we believe that we can endure, that we find the unexpected provision of God. Jesus could have taken his disciples to a place where there was no crowd, he could have sent the crowd away, he could have just found space and time for the disciples to have a meal together. But then, they wouldn’t have had that experience of bread multiplying in their hands as they shared it out amongst the crowd. They wouldn’t have had this object lesson in looking beyond the disconnect between the smallness of what was in their hands and the hugeness of the crowd. They wouldn’t have seen Jesus look to heaven with thankfulness for the small thing that was going to become enough to feed a multitude.
So, perhaps, if we feel worn out and hungry, we can be thankful for what we do have, rather than anxious about what we don’t have, we can offer it to Jesus, and then look out for what he will do with it.
Jesus says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied”