8 January 2013

Mark 6:34-44

"As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." (v. 34)


In the Gospels we are often confronted by the scandalous abundance of Jesus' love for people. He responds to people's needs in a disproportionately generous way and thus is a model for the nature of God's love.

Today's story makes this explicit, as Jesus' abundant compassion for people leads him to generous provision for their needs. The people are like sheep without a shepherd, aimless and uncertain. The Greek (splagnizomai) tells us that Jesus is moved by such great compassion that his guts are churned; the love of God is so great that, when contained in a human body, it shakes it to the core. And Jesus responds by focussing his attention on the people, by giving of himself, providing the shepherding they need. This kind of intense attentiveness to us and to our needs is characteristic of the love of God expressed in the life of Jesus.

So generous is Jesus' teaching that it grew very late and a new need emerged in the people's hunger. Again, Jesus' response is excessive. This is no mere symbolic meal, but a feast, for all ate and were filled. Eularia Clarke's painting, 'The five thousand' in the Methodist Art Collection captures the joy and fellowship of such an ad hoc party. She pictures a crowd of people feasting on fish and chips out of newspaper, licking greasy fingers, feeding chips to babies, a child using his mother as a table, and people lying back full and stuffed on the grass. These people are full of the sense of wellbeing that comes from a good meal. Moreover, community has been created through the sharing of food and laughter.

And there are leftovers. In the painting, there are piles of chips that people are too full to manage. And in the version in Mark's Gospel there are twelve baskets of leftovers (verse 43). Jesus doesn't just meet people's needs, but provides much more than they need.  In fact there is food left for other people. Symbolically Mark's Gospel suggests that the bread of life is not just for the people of Israel - there is plenty for all. The point is about ridiculous excess, for God is not afraid of being ridiculous.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever been moved to such compassion that it physically shook you? How did that make you behave?
  • We tend to think that it is reasonable to give proportionately. But have you ever received unreasonable, disproportionate generosity? What effect did that have on you?
  • Have you ever experienced sharing and eating forming community out of nothing? What was the nature of that community?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.