Mark 6:35–52comment (0)
December 31, 2009
By Cecil Taylor
Related Scripture: Mark Mark 6:35–52
Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
HOW TO BE COURAGEOUS
Feeding the Five Thousand (35–44)
The crowd had been with Jesus all day. In the evening, the disciples suggested He send the people away to eat. It would take about eight months’ wages to feed such a mob if they could even find food in such a remote place. Among the crowd, they found only five loaves (the size of silver-dollar pancakes) and two fishes (the size of sardines). At Jesus’ command, the disciples seated the people. After prayer, the Lord broke the bread and fish and had the disciples distribute them. All ate their fill and the disciples collected 12 baskets of leftovers. He fed 5,000 men (plus women and children).
Its importance is seen in that this is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels.
Radical critics go to great lengths to explain it away. Some say Jesus fed many with a little but the numbers got exaggerated. Others say it was a sacramental meal in which each person got only a tiny taste of bread and fish. One even said a little lad’s generosity (John 6:9) shamed selfish adults to share food they kept hidden away. None of these proposals squares with the account in Scripture that presents the deed as a miracle pure and simple. Others downgrade it more subtly, suggesting it means only that Jesus’ wants His disciples to feed the hungry. One asked, “If Jesus did feed 5,000, what would that mean for half of humankind who go to bed hungry every night?” His question implies the answer is “Not much.” Even to a hungry man, however, the miracle carries great significance because it tells him about Jesus. Theological truth may not feed the body, but it surely nourishes the soul.
This miracle functioned on three levels. 1) It was a deed of compassion, showing Jesus cares about people in need and suggesting that He can meet men’s needs and more (witness the leftovers). 2) It was a credential of the Messiah. On the basis of certain Old Testament prophecies (e.g., Ps. 132:15, telling how God will “abundantly bless her (Zion’s) provision” and “satisfy her poor with bread” in the days of His “anointed,” i.e., His Messiah, cf. Ps. 132:17b), the Jews looked for a messiah like Moses who would feed Israel again in the desert with bread from heaven as in the Exodus. This Jesus had just done. Also the feeding took place in the spring (the grass was “green”), exactly the time of year the Jews expected the Messiah to appear. 3) It was a proof of deity. Every year, seed was sown and multiplied. Pagans credited the harvest to Ceres (the Corn-King) or Adonis (the vegetation god). Year after year, fish reproduced by laying and fertilizing eggs. Pagans said their gods multiplied fish through “natural” reproduction. But one day in one year only, Jesus sped up the so-called “processes of nature” to show it is He — not a heathen god — that multiplies bread and fish.
Walking on Water (45–52)
After dinner, Jesus sent the disciples away in a boat, dismissed the crowd and went off to pray. He was on the mountain, but His eyes were on His disciples. For hours, they battled brutal winds and rough seas. Somewhere between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., Jesus came walking over the waters. Thinking He was a ghost, the disciples cried out in fear but He comforted them. “It is I” literally reads, “I AM,” the divine name (Ex. 3:14; John 8:58). He entered the boat and the storm stopped. There are three miracles in one: Jesus saw their distress from a distance, He walked on water and (it is implied) He stilled the storm.
That “He was about to pass them by” probably has the sense of “pass before” or “pass in view of,” as if to show Himself to them as Master of the sea. That is a divine attribute. Only the Creator can control the seas (Isa. 43:16; Ps. 77:19; 65:5, 7; 89:9). If Jesus rules the winds and waves, then He must be the Maker and Master of all.
The closing reference to the “lesson of the loaves” suggests the disciples missed a message in that event, i.e., that both multiplying bread and stilling the sea reflected His divine omnipotence.