Disciples return, excited but exhausted. They need to rest and recuperate, but the crowd chases after them.
1. His wonderful compassion, v32-34
‘…because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’
They had leaders a-plenty – Herod, and the priests and the scribes. They could boast a magnificent temple, a large income, thronging congregations. But they were not doing their job.
Moses and Joshua were often referred to as ‘shepherds’ because they led the people not only to safety, but to victory. Num 27:16f (“May the Lord…appoint a man over this community…, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”).
Jesus sees people without direction. He did not see them as criminals to be condemned; he saw them as lost wanderers to be found and brought home. He did not see them as chaff to be burned; he saw them as a harvest to be reaped for God.
He will heal them (Mt and Lk) and feed them; but first he will teach them.
As we look out on our own confused world today, do we view it with dismay, or reach out to it with compassion?
2. His impossible demands, v35-37
Disciples (tired and disgruntled), v35f: “It’s getting late. The people are hungry. Send them away so that they can get something to eat”.
Jesus: “You give them something to eat” (And they will!).
Calculation, v37. It does not occur to them that it can be dealt with in anything other than a mundane way. Even though this was soon after they had been given authority to heal and to drive out demons, v13.
Still today our Lord says to his people, “You give them something to eat.” Like Moses, we complain that we lack leadership skills. Like Jeremiah, we protest that we are the wrong age. Like the disciples we judge our resources to be utterly insufficient. But if are tempted to cry out with Paul, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’, let us also join him when he says, ‘Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.’ (2 Cor 2:15).
3. His amazing power, 38-44
The disciples focus on what they lack; Jesus focuses on what they have: five loaves and two fish. And he gets them to help him.
He instructs his disciples to organise the people in groups, v39 (what did the crowd think?).
He gives the disciples the multiplied loaves and fish and they set them before the people, v41. Everyone eats and is satisfied, v42.
Jesus could have done it without any resources and without their help. But he enables the disciples to do what they thought was impossible.
Miracle is not the same as magic. For one thing, miracles are selective: there is no spell that will work every time you use it. No miracle saved John the Baptist from being beheaded, or our Lord himself from being crucified.
For another thing, miracles have purpose. For Mark, the purpose of this miracles is to answer, once again, the great question ‘Who is this man?’ (cf. 6:14-16).
Mark shows what John says: that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life. Both would agree that Jesus has fed the people as only the Lord himself fed them in the OT (think manna in the wilderness).
We read in v52 that ‘they did not understood about the loaves.’ May Christ grant us understanding, so that we may see who he is, what he came to achieve, and that we may share in his compassionate outreach, comply with his unreasonable demands, and learn that when we work with him nothing is impossible.