19 July 2015

Mark 6:30-56

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people” (v. 41)

Psalm: Psalm 23


This familiar account from Mark's Gospel of the feeding of five thousand people is set against the background of John the Baptist's recent execution by Herod (Mark 6:17-29) and the disciples recently returning from much work (Mark 6:7-13). Jesus calls his disciples away to a quiet place where they might find. When they arrive they find the crowds there waiting for them. "…. and he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things" (v. 34) - perhaps here in Mark, Jesus takes on the mantle of John 'the baptiser'.

As the day wears on after much teaching the disciples ask Jesus to disperse the crowds, surprisingly Jesus asks them to find food for them. They resort to talk of money and scarcity rather than their own personal resources (verse 37).

Jesus blesses the small resources of food that are found and the slender gifts are distributed miraculously. Mark's account echoes in many ways the story of God providing manna from heaven when people were complaining that they had been led into the wilderness - out of comfort and safety to starve (Exodus 16). This echo of the past seems in part to be a messianic action indicating Jesus's relationship with God and God's people.

At times I can identify with the disciples' need to hide away from the crowds to find rest, times when I have been to lead an evening group and really feel too tired to do it, but curiously a blessing comes from others which feeds me and tiredness is blown away.

I have often seen groups of people who are reluctant to share thoughts and ideas, often feeling 'no one wants to hear my experience or ideas'. I have always felt that other people's ideas are sometimes better than my own, that I learn far more from what others might say. If the leader or facilitator of the group 'blesses' the ideas of individuals, there is a sense that the person feels involved and included, and that others may feel more ready to speak. For me often the best way of learning is through group discussion because the sum total of what may be learned is greater than all the individual contributions; also new thoughts can be mysteriously drawn from our experience, by what has been said before.

Blessing those contributions also means that nothing has been wasted; every contribution, no matter how humble, may be given time. The amount that was left over as waste is another indicator of God's bounty; there was not just enough but far more than enough.

To Ponder

  • How often do you go to a meeting or study group with your own packed lunch or expectations or agenda rather than looking for wisdom in others? How might you change this?
  • How much credence do you give to other people's experience no matter how humble? Or do you trample on others' precious offerings? Again how might you modify our behaviour?

Bible notes author

The Revd Michael Sawyer

Michael Sawyer is the minister of the Chelsea Methodist Church and Fulham Methodist Church. He was previously minister of Shepherd's Bush Road Methodist Church.