5000 for Dinner

dinner of bread and fish
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dongkwan/2491123733/">Ernesto Andrade</a>

Mark 6:35-44

When evening came, his students came and said to him, “This is a remote place, and it’s getting late. Send them away so they can go back to civilization, and in the villages they can buy something for themselves to eat.”

He said, “You give them something to eat.”

“Feeding all these people is going to cost over $10,000,” they said. “You want us to spend that kind of money on food for them?”

He said, “How many loaves do you have? Go check.”

They went and counted. “We have five, and two fish.”

Then Jesus told them to get all the people to sit down in the green grass in groups. So they all sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, looked to heaven, and then broke the bread into pieces. He gave them to his students, to distribute to the people. Then he divided the fish among them all, too.

Everyone ate until they were full, five thousand men in all. When the students collected the leftovers, there were twelve baskets of pieces of bread and fish.

There’s little mistaking that Jesus has just formed his own legion: five thousand men, divided into hundreds and fifties. Legions, like any military presence, were expensive. Well over $10,000 a day just for food. An army marches on its stomach, then and now.

The little detail about the green grass, a reference to Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd… he makes me lie down in green grass… he prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies…”), makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is throwing down a challenge to the Roman imperial occupation.

  • Whereas the Roman legions were paid for and fed by reducing the people of the occupied land to poverty, Jesus’ legion was about feeding those who had been impoverished by the occupation.
  • Whereas the Roman legions were routinely sent into the countryside and villages to take what food they needed, Jesus’ refuses to send his legion out to pillage and terrorize the people.

What does this mean for people like you and me? Start by asking yourself, whose legion are you a part of? What groups do you belong to? Are those groups about extracting resources or multiplying resources? Or, if you’re in the position of leading a group, where are you really taking them?

“How many loaves and fishes do you have? Go check.”

[Bonus: Think about it. Psalm 23 was never intended to be read at funerals, it’s a declaration of defiance and resistance.]

Can’t or Won’t

Private Property sign
Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete

Mark 8:1-10

As it happened, another large crowd gathered without any food. Jesus called his students and said, “I feel so bad for this crowd. They’ve been following me around for three days with no food. If I send them home hungry they’ll starve to death on the way back. Some of them have come a very long way.”

His students answered, “How can anyone get enough food for all these people here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Well, how much bread do you have?” he asked them.

“Seven loaves,” they answered.

So he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and broke them with gratitude, and gave the pieces to his students to pass around. As it turned out, they also had a few fish, which Jesus also ordered them to pass out. So everyone, about four thousand people, ate till they were full, and the pieces left over filled seven baskets. After which Jesus sent them back home. Then Jesus took his students and they caught the first boat to Dalmanutha.

(See also previous commentary about feeding the multitudes. Also, note that as with Matthew, Mark’s gospel records two such episodes. The passages that take place between the two are significant. A three-part series on these starts here.)

The question Jesus’ students are asking is, in effect: “How can you expect us to do something so big?”

And Jesus’ answer is: “Use what you have and do it.”

Too simple? Most of the time what keeps us from doing the amazing, big thing we really want to do is our saying we can’t. But the Jesus is ready to call our bluff. Is it that we can’t? Or we won’t?

How much bread do you have? Jesus asks. And why are you holding onto it so tightly. And, once things get going, the disciples discover (or did they get outed) that they actually have more than they at first reported. Look! Fish! Who knew we had fish! And even then, Jesus has to order them to share.

Chances are, we have more resources than we think we have. It’s the willingness to expend them that is in question.

It’s true for individuals. But it’s also true of churches. How many churches are sitting on huge endowments, and clinging to the money with white knuckles while they and the crowds of hungry people in the neighborhoods around them starve to death? All the while whining about how they’re too few and decrepit to do anything great for Jesus.

It’s true for churches. But it’s also true of businesses. Non-profits. Even nations.

Next time you’re presented with the opportunity to do something really big, something that will really help a lot of people [Hint: it’ll probably happen sometime today.] consider why you’re saying no. Is it because you really can’t. Or won’t?