Mark 6:35-44

When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.

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. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. Mark 6:35-44

The feeding of the 5000 (plus any women or children who might have happened by) is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels. Why do you suppose that is? What is it about this particular story that so struck the imaginations of people that it stands out among the rest?

There’s the superficial – everyone wants a free lunch. Today is Election Day. When is the last time you voted for a politician who told you that it is childish to assume that you will always get what you want, blind to not realize that every public good requires taxpayers to pay for it, selfish to be concerned only about your own private concerns or pocketbook, or greedy to leave your grandchildren with a mountain of debt? Oh, that’s right…that’s not how it works. Instead you have people from every party promising the moon which will arrive on your doorstep on a silver platter.

Many people follow Jesus because they expect to personally benefit from the relationship. Insider status and all of that. A ticket to heaven. Even our spirituality falls prey to our constant wondering about “What’s in it for me?” Personally, I look back and I realize that is exactly how I thought at the beginning. And that is somewhere behind every time we question God for the unfairness of it all.

Even the old “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” question belies that deeper expectation that only good things happen to those who show up to Jesus’ feed line in time for dinner.

Maybe the allure of this story is the depth of the symbolic significance of the details. Bread from heaven. The new Moses delivers. Fish – ΙΧΘΥΣ – that curious symbol etched into the walls of the gathering spaces for the fledgling Christian resistance – Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. 12 baskets, the restored glory of the reunited 12 tribes of Israel.

Or maybe the sacramental reference of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.

Maybe it always stands there to remind us that God always takes what we have and makes it enough for what we need. That God provides.

But for me, I’m going to settle on only this – the disciples want to send the crowds off to find their own food. Jesus looks at the crowds with compassion. He sees their need. The crowds is filled with food. The disciples are taught that sending the crowds away to fend for themselves might be the easy way, but it isn’t the Jesus way.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, there is so much hunger in our world today that people are always attracted to the promise of a free lunch. We’re always looking for the easy way out rather than facing the difficulties of the only way through. Help us see again that compassion unlocks the abundance of your creation rather than blinding us with self-created illusions of scarcity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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