Feeding and Feeding

Mark 6:30 the apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.....

Remember how this began in Mark 6:12-13: So they ["the twelve"] went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

The mission of the disciples begins with them simply being ''the twelve." When they return, the are the "apostles," the sent. When they returned,

(Mark 6:30-34) the apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

This little passage is often used to remind us that we should rest. We are told even Jesus took time out. And it is often used with the following verses (where thousands descend upon their retreat) to point up the truism that even when we take time out, the needs the church serves seem to follow us! This is all true, but I would like to focus on a bigger picture I think Mark is drawing for us. Let's look at some of what follows in the next chapters:

Feeding 5,000
Mark 6:33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat." 37 But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denariia worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?" 38 And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

Feeding 4,000
Mark 8:1-10 8 In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2 "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance." 4 His disciples replied, "How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?" 5 He asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" They said, "Seven." 6 Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7 They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 8 They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

Notice the symmetry and differences:

Feeding 5,000
A huge crowd (of local people)
Compassion from Jesus
because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
They are in a deserted and lonely place
There is no food
The hour is late
YOU feed them
5 loaves
2 fish
On the green grass in groups
Jesus looked up to heaven and
blessed broke the loaves
He gave it to the disciples to feed the people
There were 12 Jewish baskets (kophinos) left over
5,000 men were fed

Feeding 4,000
A huge crowd (of people- some from a great distance)
Compassion from Jesus
because they were with him 3 days with nothing to eat.
They are in the desert
There is no food
The hour is now very late
YOU feed them
7 loaves
A few fish
On the ground
Jesus gave thanks
and broke the loaves
He gave it to the disciples to feed the people
There were 7 Greek baskets (spyris) left over
4,000 people

I am indebted to Robert Crotty's commentary Good News in Mark for these observations. (Fontana 1975) Crotty points out the two miracle stories of feeding in Mark are strikingly similar. If we read them at all reflectively, the pattern is very obvious! There are also differences. The numbers and details in the first story are, as Crotty put it, "Jewish." We have local people who are like sheep without a shepherd, who are sat down in the green grass in groups and fed bread and fish. In the second story we have numbers and baskets which are ''Greek," that is, numbers associated with the wider non Jewish culture. We have two almost identical feeding miracles except for the numbers.

These miracles (especially the first one) are reminiscent of the people of Israel in the wilderness with Moses. There they were fed with bread from heaven, i.e. the manna. Jesus looking up to heaven, and blessing and breaking the bread is a pointer to the Christian rite of communion, especially his giving the bread to the disciples to distribute. And the fish are a sign of the believers in Jesus, the Greek word for fish, Icthus, being an acrostic for Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour. Finally, this feeding in the desert would have reminded the contemporary readers of the popular expectations of a Messianic Banquet of the faithful of the end of time- the time when justice would finally be done!

For all its calling to mind of great images of the faith, this double telling of the miracle feedings is profoundly subversive for those who wish to see. The glorious banquet is not just for Israel! A profoundly Jewish story of feeding is told. It is full of the imagery and promise of the end times when justice would be done and Israel world be returned to its rightful glory. This glory was often seen as a time when Israel would be raised up, and the other nations would at best be subservient. Often they were expected to suffer vengeful punishment from God.

Then the story is followed by a repeat. Only the ignorant or the foolishly literalist would not notice that the same story is told again! We are meant to see it is the same event and the same story. And then we are meant to take the short step to realise that the ''numbers are all wrong." In our comfortable position as the beloved people of God we are - suddenly shown the promise to Israel is a promise to the whole world. Even to those "Greek's' who are other and whom we expected to come under the wrath of God.

This is an extraordinarily important statement about Jesus' vision for the world. Most messianic visions are partial. They promise good for a restricted group of people. This is essentially why we have had the recent war is the Middle East. The modern state of Israel, (which has no connection to the various Israels of biblical times), is founded on a vision of a homeland for Jews who here been persecuted for centuries. But it is a flawed vision because it has been fulfilled and upheld at the expense of Palestinians and a million and a half refugees. Injustice which is intractable breeds the intractable terror of a Hezbollah and spawns thousands of willing converts, and the peace is lost. True peace depends on justice for everyone. A messianic vision without justice for all is a flawed vision,

As we read the next chapters of Mark it may be eye opening to remember this pattern of Jew And Greek which overlays whatever else we may find the stories saying to us.

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!



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