11 February 2016

Mark 8:1-10

“His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’” (v. 4)

Psalm: Psalm 34:1-10


The "again" in the first verse draws attention to the fact that this is the second account of Jesus feeding a great crowd (see Mark 6:33-44). The stories are similar, but there are differences. They are both set in a deserted place. This would have reminded the listeners of the story of the Israelites hunger in the wilderness after they escaped from slavery in Egypt, before they reached the Promised Land (Exodus 16). In transitional places, the normal provisions which sustain us may have disappeared. We miss them and are hungry. And we don't always remember to trust God to provide for us in these strange places.

Jesus had compassion on the crowd, recognising their hunger. Sadly, despite the experience of the first miracle of the feeding of 5,000, this second time the disciples still cannot imagine how the crowds might be fed. Like us, they are slow learners!

Once again, there were a few loaves and some fish available. Once again, Jesus gave thanks for what was available, broke it and gave it to the disciples to distribute to the crowds who ate and miraculously had their fill. The closer we are to Jesus, it seems, the more he calls us to share in his work of compassion.

The differences in the two stories are mostly in details of the numbers involved:

  • In the first story the crowd have nothing to eat for a day, in the second it is three days.
  • In the first story there are five thousand men, in the second four thousand.
  • In the first story there are five loaves, in the second seven.
  • In the first story there are twelve baskets of leftovers, in the second seven.

Some have thought that the first story represents God amply providing for the Jews, and the second for the Gentiles (non-Jews). Others have wondered whether the story shows how slow the disciples are to recognise the significance of who Jesus is - God's Messiah amply providing for the needs of the whole of humanity. It was more than they could understand.

To Ponder

  • Describe a situation where, like the disciples, you have felt overwhelmed by the sense of the need in a situation, and felt inadequate to do anything about it. What happened?
  • What does being thankful and thanking God mean in a situation, where you don't think you have enough? Have you tried it, and what was your experience?
  • Think of, and describe, an occasion where you offered the little that you had and God used it beyond all your expectation. Give thanks for that.

Bible notes author

The Revd Jenny Ellis

Jenny is a Methodist minister and this year has permission to study, as well as work alongside a rural chapel to help it find a new physical presence and sense of mission in its village. She is leading a number of quiet and study days.