There can be little doubt how important the story of the feeding of 5,000 was to the Gospel writers, for it is the only ministry miracle recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 14:13-21; Mk. 6:32-44; Lk. 9:11-17; Jn. 6:1-14). It is not accidental, then, that Mark spends so much time on the story.
The feeding of the 5,000 teaches far more than Jesus’ power, for it presents him as the true shepherd of his people, who provided the necessities of their spiritual and physical life (Mk. 6:31-44). Equally striking is Jesus’ expectation that the disciples should feed the hungry crowd.
This incident also reveals that Jesus recognizes his disciples’ need for rest. One cannot serve others 24 hours a day. Similarly, ministers/pastors need to take time for themselves, and Jesus’ word, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while,” is a refreshing encouragement for weary workers. This shows that Jesus cared for both their spiritual and physical needs.
However, when we try to get away, we often find more hungry people – both spiritually and physically. The need can be overwhelming, and we are tempted to send the suffering and needy away empty-handed. We may have heard or even voiced the same protest the disciples made. “It will cost us too much to do anything about their needs. Let them take care of themselves. They are not our responsibility.”
We have not done our duty if all we have done is point out the problems in society and lament them. Some make a hobby out of listing down the world’s ills. The church, however, has been called out into the world to do something about these problems. We must minister to the spiritual needs at the root of many social problems and extend material aid to those who are in need. Sending them away to fend for themselves does not solve the problem. Jesus works the miracle when his disciples share what they have with others. The church cannot neglect either spiritual or physical hunger. In this account, the disciples are stumped when they think that the task is impossible or the cost too great. Only when they have faith to tap into the divine resources do they accomplish the job and provide everyone with enough.
21st Century disciples are no different from Jesus’ first disciples but they often cannot see that even when they are drained physically and financially, they have the resources to help others. They are challenged to tackle impossible problems with limited resources and to discover the possibilities of God. Before we can say, “There is nothing we can do, send them away,” we should first “go and see” how many loaves we have.
The passage in Mark 6:31-44 confirms that compassion combined with God’s bountiful supply and power can meet both the spiritual and physical needs of people.
Rev. Mark Tay