About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them,2 “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.”
4 His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?”
5 Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”
“Seven loaves,” they replied.
6 So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd.7 A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.
8 They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. 9 There were about 4,000 men in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. 10 Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha. – Mark 8:1-10
Have you had the opportunity to teach your child a lesson the easy way? We often have to teach them the hard way: schools of hard knocks, learning by their mistakes, letting them get to the end of their rope before rescuing them. But how about the easy way? Showing them how to bake brownies (and lick the bowl after they’re baking in the oven. Getting into the passenger seat while your daughter pulls the car out of the garage and into the driveway (no further, please!). Sometimes there is a two-fold lesson. Brownies are easy to make and fun to clean up after. Cars are powerful and must be driven with care, and need to be driven only so far!
Perhaps Jesus is actually intentionally teaching two different lessons in these two accounts of the feeding of the multitude. Maybe there is a lesson for us about both compassion and purpose. That’s what I’m beginning to think. The Reformation Study Bible notes offers this insight:
Since this feeding probably took place in the Decapolis (7:31), it is evident that Jesus extends His compassion from the lost sheep of the house of Israel (6:34) to the Gentiles, as His healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (7:24–30) and His ministry in Gentile territory (7:31–37) would suggest. By His actions Jesus announces the world-wide mission of the future church.
Certainly part of the lesson is that Jesus came for both Jew and Gentile. He has sufficient compassion for both. He is willing to provide for all people. There is a mission beyond our immediate family and friends. The message of the Gospel is intended for all people at all time until the end of time. So we should not be surprised when, at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus commands his followers to make disciples of all nations.
This is an important lesson for me. A person comes to me for help, for a listening ear, or for guidance. Do I respond differently if he is not a member of our church? Am I more prone to respond if she is a friend? Does my heart sink because I don’t have time, energy, or bandwidth for another needy person? I confess. I do need God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to offer kindness, love, and help when I’m tired, or when it isn’t convenient. I too easily identify with the man who tells his friend who comes in the night asking for a loaf of bread, “Go away. The door is already shut, my children are with me in bed — I can’t get up to give you anything” (Luke 11:7).
But that’s not how Jesus responds. He has compassion – again – for people in need. He doesn’t want them to faint along the way. He doesn’t want them to miss the blessing of his providential goodness, love, and grace. We have here a display of compassion, and a lesson about purpose. Jesus’ purpose is to seek and save the lost. His compassion is for all people. I wonder whether I might lean into that attitude more fully. How about you?