After you’ve read the Bible through a number of times, it’s easy to become jaded and think that you’ll never find anything new. I wonder if that happened to the disciples and that’s why they didn’t learn the lesson of feeding the five thousand. As I prepared for today’s Bible study, two things that I had never considered before jumped out at me. So, keep reading God’s word and keep expecting Him to speak to you in new and amazing ways each day.
30. And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. 31. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.
As we move on from the story of John the Baptist, we’re reminded that Jesus had sent the apostles out on a mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, teach, heal those who were sick, and cast out demons. Now, to complete the “Markan sandwich,” we get the report. The apostles came back and reported what they had done and what they had taught. I imagine it was a bit of a circus atmosphere, with the disciples all trying to talk at once while the crowds surrounded and pushed in on them to see and hear Jesus. They didn’t have the time or a decent place to grab a bite to eat. That’s when Jesus told them it was time to blow this joint and find some place in the desert where they could have peace and quiet, rest, and then talk about what had happened.
32. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. 33. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. 34. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
They found their boat and headed off to a different place. The problem was, these early forerunners of the paparazzi realized what they were doing and followed Jesus and His crew. Some ran around the lake. Some may have had boats there to follow, but these people were so desperate to hear the word of God, to be healed, to be delivered from their demons that Jesus’s plan for peace and quiet turned into a mob scene at a different place with most of the same people. If it were me, I might have told everyone to get lost. I might have asked if they had family somewhere that needed them. I used to tell my brother or sisters, even littler neighborhood kids, if I needed a break from them, “Go tell your mother she wants you.” Jesus had compassion on them. He came out of the boat, and there they were and He realized that they needed to experience the love and the grace of their Father God. He realized that they, like sheep, were wandering around aimlessly in life and they needed someone to shepherd and guide them. Because of that, rather than making peace and quiet His priority, ministry and grace became more important. He started teaching them.
35. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: 36. Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.
The disciples recognized a problem that they thought that Jesus hadn’t considered: it was late, they were in a place so deserted that there were no fast food joints around, and people were bound to get hungry. So they went up to Jesus and suggested that He send the people away so they could forage for food themselves. My opinion was that the disciples, having just come back from their missions, wanted some down time alone with Jesus. I have no doubt that they couldn’t think of anyplace where people would be able to buy bread, but it was a convenient way to get the people out of there. Jesus had a different solution, though.
37. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? 38. He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.
The solution Jesus had in mind was ministry. The disciples recognized the problem with that right away. As my pastor puts it, “Ministry is spelled M-O-N-E-Y.” Jesus told the disciples to minister to the people by feeding them and their objection was that it would take half a year’s wages to do that. (That would be about 200 denarii in the coin of the day.) They knew not only that it would cost money, but if they were going to buy that much bread, they’d have to make a lot of different stops, given that most people prepared their own daily bread and not much more, and that by the time they got back with the bread, the people would have missed their meal anyway. In short, the disciples saw the problems with the only solution they could imagine – it was impossible to do as Jesus asked. Jesus suggested a different approach to the problem – find out what resources they might have. So the disciples went out and canvassed the thousands of people gathered around and after all the asking, they found out that they had access to five loaves of bread and two fishes. According to other versions of the story, it was a little kid sharing his own lunch. I don’t know how good at math you are, but I’m guessing that it would be difficult to feed that many people with such meager fare.
39. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. 40. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. 41. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. 42. And they did all eat, and were filled. 43. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. 44. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.
When Jesus had figured out their resources, He organized the disciples and the people for action. They sat down in smaller groups of fifty and a hundred. Yes, I typed “smaller” with a straight face because we discover later in this passage that there were five thousand men there and we’re not sure if “men” was generic for people of if they didn’t count the women and children. Jesus took the resources, looked out on the people as they were organized, and then thanked God for His provision. With that, He gave the disciples the food they had scrounged, and sent them to distribute the meal. I’ve heard some people try to minimize this miracle by noting that the people probably carried their lunches, just like the little boy, and when the food started getting passed around, they decided that maybe they’d better share their provisions, after being shamed by a little boy. While I believe that this miracle was more than that, if this is what happened, all these people who hid their food when the disciples were looking for it, suddenly changed their hearts and began sharing. If you think that isn’t a miracle, imagine what would happen if God’s people shared their resources with a needy world, especially in times of disaster. If you believe that this was a miracle of sharing, instead of a miracle of food multiplication, then my question to you is, “How are you sharing the resources that God has blessed you with?” I believe that just as God miraculously provided quail and manna to the Israelites during the Exodus, God the Father provided for his children with a miraculous duplication of food, engineered by God the Son. Could it have been a “combined miracle” with multiplication of food and sharing? Perhaps. If so, that would explain the leftovers, since in the miracle of manna and quail, there were no leftovers. However you believe this happened, the miracle is that starting with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, about five thousand men ate that day.
Now, one thing I’ve never heard anyone talk about, is what happened to the leftovers. The next verses may explain why we didn’t hear about them, because I don’t think the disciples took them. I think that Jesus asked people to take the leftovers and distribute them to people in the region who might not have a meal that day. I think the fact that there were 12 baskets full was significant, as each of the disciples picked up a full basket after the meal was over – notice that there were twelve. I don’t think that the disciples kept the food for future use, for we see later where Jesus told them not to worry about eating. I haven’t seen other explanations of what happened to the leftovers, but knowing the nature of Jesus, I couldn’t imagine that He would let the food go to waste and I can only imagine that He used it as an opportunity to give an even greater lesson on sharing by asking those who were there to find someone to share with. This is all speculation of course, but what do you think happened to the leftovers?
45. And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. 46. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
Jesus sent the disciples away immediately after they picked up the leftovers, which may be why we never hear what happened to them. He told them to get in the boat and head to Bethsaida. While they did that Jesus took care of sending people back home. Then, as the disciples were headed away, He went to a nearby mountain to pray. We don’t hear what Jesus prays about often, but I can’t help but wonder that He had the hearts and souls of those He had fed that day on His mind. My prayer in such a situation would be that the people understood the spiritual food they had received as much as they appreciated the physical food.
47. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. 48. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.
So, Jesus finished praying and walked back to the shore. Their boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was by Himself on the land. He could see them rowing and not making progress because they were rowing against the wind. Jesus put His head down into the wind and caught up to them by walking on the water. He would have walked past them, but they noticed Him. It’s interesting that Peter’s tale of joining the Master on the water isn’t included in Mark, who is reputed to be a close associate of Peter. Perhaps Peter showed some humility by not talking about His adventure to his friend. Perhaps he was humiliated by his lack of faith that only allowed him to take a few steps before sinking. Whatever the situation, we don’t find that story here. It would be interesting to read Peter’s side of the story.
49. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: 50. For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. 51. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. 52. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
The disciples knew the science of the day. They knew that people couldn’t walk on water, so they came to the only logical conclusion about what was happening when they saw Jesus: they screamed like frightened teenagers because they figured that what they saw had to be a ghost. I imagine that seeing someone do something like walk on water would be troubling to anyone, especially when they were already exhausted from fruitless labor. Jesus put their minds at ease immediately by telling them to cheer up because it was really Him. The disciples were afraid of someone doing the unknown or seemingly impossible, Jesus told them not to be afraid. Maybe that’s a good lesson for us. We need to look for Jesus acting in our world today and then not be afraid when we see Him acting.
After calming the disciples down, He got permission to board the ship. When He did, the storm stopped. The next sentence and a half is a mind-boggling statement. They had seen Jesus walk on the water and they had seen the storm stop when He got on the ship and their minds were blown. What would seem to be a normal reaction to such an event, is criticized. Mark said that their hearts were hardened because they hadn’t considered the miracle of the loaves. We’ve seen Jesus calm a storm before when the disciples woke Him from a nap to take care of them. The most amazing thing they saw in this story was Jesus walking on the water. What does the miracle of the loaves have to do with that? I believe that the point of this last sentence is that they didn’t understand who Jesus really was. We get a clue to resolving the reason for the rebuke the disciples got here from a story in John. If we look at John 6:30ff we see a woman asking for proof of who Jesus was and she used the example of the Israelites eating manna in the wilderness. While Jesus answered diplomatically, I can imagine Him saying, “Lady! What did you just eat? I produced enough bread to feed ten thousand people because I am the Messiah, I am the Son of God, and you’re trying to tell me that’s the kind of sign you want? I did it, and you’r still asking for a sign! The disciples had been with Jesus and seen so much, they shouldn’t have been surprised by any miracle they saw. They shouldn’t take it matter of factly, of course, but they shouldn’t be astonished to the point of fear.
53. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. 54. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him, 55. And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was. 56. And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.
According to one commentator I read, the fact that the disciples arrived in Gennesaret rather than Bethsaida was because the storm probably blew the boat off course. Given that there are no accidents in the way Jesus works, I have no doubt that He wasn’t surprised by the detour. Perhaps they thought, “well, at least no one will know us here in this Gentile land.” They knew Him. The news that Jesus had arrived spread like wildfire and wherever He went, people ran to see Him bringing their sick friends and relatives along so that He could heal them. They wanted to touch the hem of His garment so that they might be healed, and as many as touched it were healed.
We first see the idea of touching just the clothes of Jesus in chapter five of Mark. The woman with the flow of blood that had been going on tried to touch Him anonymously, but Jesus healed more than her body, He healed her soul by calling attention to what happened to her and letting everyone know that she was also a child of God. I’m going to be honest with you. I can’t tell you where around the Sea of Galilee this was because I get lost in the comings and goings of Jesus across that sea. But I’m going to throw out a wild, hare-brained idea. I wonder if the people of Gennesaret knew this women or heard that story about Jesus from others who were there and decided that healing came when someone touched His robe. Was it a cultural thing for people who healed in those days where people just touched their clothes? As I ponder this story, there’s something even more interesting to me than the reason for touching the hem of the garment. It strikes me that touching the clothes would be somewhat impersonal and just as Jesus wanted the woman, and those around her, to know God’s love and presence in their lives, He wanted to have personal interactions with all who were sick. Because they followed a story they heard about Jesus, rather than coming face-to-face with Jesus Himself, the missed out on a far greater blessing by settling for physical healing instead of getting to know God the Son.