The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”
39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. – Mark 6:30-44
Have you ever worked in a soup kitchen? I was once on a team that served dinners at a local night shelter. I also helped lug 50 pound bags of beans from one locker to another in the basement of a food shelter in Moscow, Russia. It’s amazing what people will do when they’re hungry, and they know their behavior will have an immediate impact on how quickly they will be fed.
On the other hand, maybe you’ve seen the clamoring that goes on, and sometimes violent struggles when the UNICEF truck arrives in the refuge camps. Makes me sigh even to think of that now.
I’ve never been that hungry. And I suspect the people who had followed Jesus on this occasion were not “that hungry” either. But there was hunger. There was a need. And Jesus was there too.
Maybe they didn’t realize what he was about to do. Perhaps they thought he was going to continue teaching them. It could be that they thought it was simply a time to take a break. But it seems clear that when Jesus had them sit down in groups they did so. There is no evidence of a struggle, nor even murmuring. Mark just tells us that they sat in groups of 100’s and 50’s.
Recall how Jethro advised Moses to divide the people into groups so that they would not wear out Moses as they sought his counsel (cf. Exodus 18:1-27). Moses could not do it all. Neither will Jesus. He will involve his disciples in this miraculous feeding. They will watch as Jesus takes the loaves and fish and blesses them. Then they will help distribute these gifts to the hungry people.
More significant than their apparent disciplined behavior is Jesus’ involvement of the disciples in the miraculous feast. So too today: Jesus involves us in bringing the bread of life to others.
A favorite description of evangelism is One beggar telling another where to find bread. Let me tell you, it’s here. It satisfies deeply. And it will never run out.