Mark 6: 30 – 44 Jesus feeds the five thousand
The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. ‘This is a remote place,’ they said, ‘and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’
But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.’
They said to him, ‘That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?’
‘How many loaves do you have?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’
When they found out, they said, ‘Five – and two fish.’
Then Jesus told them to make all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
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It’s strange, isn’t it, how sometimes a phrase or sentence in the bible catches your attention? That happened to me this morning as I sat typing out today’s study passage.
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”
“Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
What made them sheep without a shepherd?
Mark gives us a compelling image of thousands of people running to be near Jesus – “But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them” – but it’s far from the whole story.
The people were there for many different reasons. Some were looking for healing. Some were looking for meaning in their lives. Some were sensation-seekers, hoping to see a miracle. They were wandering without clear direction.
Now these people, the Israelites, were God’s chosen people. They had the Mosaic law, and the prophets. Their society was run by religious men who were intimately acquainted with the law. They had a priesthood who could intervene with God for the sins of the people. And yet they were wandering.
Over and over again we read about the hypocrisy and self-seeking of the religious leaders. They used the law to profit at the expense of those who were unlearned. Far from protecting Israel’s unique moral heritage, they formed an unholy alliance with the Romans. Even the temple was no longer a refuge from the worldly; the outer court had become a market where money could be changed and animals could be bought for sacrifice.
The shepherds of Israel, the chief priests and doctors of the law, were too busy making money and guarding their status to look after their flock.
Society had become corrupt from top to bottom.
Jesus would have been aware of this, I’m sure, but something about this huge gathering of people, thousands of them, seems to have affected him deeply. “He had compassion on them,” and “He began teaching them many things.” The people were lost, and Jesus took on the duty of being their shepherd.
Are there parallels today? There certainly seems to be corruption and self-serving from our leaders, whatever their political affiliation. But now we know where to turn, and who to listen to, because Jesus is the Good Shepherd for the world. His message is constant: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’
Repent – turn to God in obedience. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself.
Please help me to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Help me to love my neighbour as myself.
In Jesus name, Amen