Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The miracles of Jesus usually lead to something that would seem natural and commonplace. Jesus heals people of many diseases that healthy bodies should have defeated. Jesus heals wounds to damaged bodies that would have been healthy if not for accident. Much of what Jesus does could be called restoration. He restores minds and bodies to a normal state. The miracles are mundane in every way except for their speed. There is no word of Jesus making people stronger or healthier than what you would expect of a normal person. So, miracles aren’t much like the illusions made to entertain people. They are not flashy. They are only dramatic in their suddenness.
That is also true of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. For all its vast size, it ends up being a miraculous event marked by how normal it felt. It is a miracle that slowly become bigger and bigger as the food is passed among the people. Jesus does not begin by making huge piles of food. He begins with a little food that is multiplied as it is shared.
The apostles gathered around 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 recognized 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 tender compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
The disciples return from being sent out villages to spread the Gospel message. They begin to tell Jesus what they have done, but they are overwhelmed by people approaching to see Jesus. So they get in a boat and travel near the shore to get to a more remote place, but the people on the shore simply follow them around the edge of the lake and meet them at their landing place.
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. 36 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 directed them to have 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.
This feeling of tender compassion rises in Jesus and his first response is to teach the people. We aren’t told precisely what he taught, but we assume that Jesus’ message is essentially the same wherever he goes. I doubt that his parables were said only once. Just as he healed thousands of people, he said some messages hundreds of times.
As the day drew near its end. The disciples suggested that people be sent away to go home or buy food in local villages and farms. Jesus answers them with the command, “you give them something to eat.”
The disciples suggest that it would take two hundred silver coins to buy bread for so many people. A single silver coin was a day’s wages for farm workers. Still, they were underestimating the cost.
Jesus asks the disciples about how much bread they had with them. The answer if five loaves and two fish.
So Jesus orders the people to sit on the grass and he gives thanks for the fish and loaves in the same way that a parent would pray for God’s blessing for a meal at home. The bread and fish are passed around and the miracle happens as the food is passed; each person eats so they are satisfied. The size of the miracle is only completely known when the disciples gather up the scraps in twelve baskets.
Because of archaeologists, we know much about the food of the ancient Galilee region. The loaves were very small and dark, either whole wheat , barley, or rye that had been ground down with low quality mill stones that left traces of stone dust in the bread. The fish would have been small oiled cured dish that would resemble sardines. It was said that the oily fish (soaked in olive oil and wrapped in leaves) would help people swallow the dense and coarse bread.
We are not sure of the precise number of people who were fed because we are told that the number of men was about five thousand. Large numbers in those days were approximated. We also have no count of women or children. The people who wrote the New testament only had words for numbers going up to ten thousand, and large numbers were usually approximations (like the way we usually speak of the words million or billion). So, the actual number of people could have been a six or seven thousand.
Like other miracles performed by Christ, the miracle has commonplace elements. The people are fed a normal worker’s meal with no word of anything unusual or excessive. Jesus takes common things and provides. This miracle also reflects the miracles of daily life. God provides food for not on only thousands but many more each day. The current world population is more than a million times larger than the group Jesus fed that day. [Five thousand times one million would only be five billion people… while the current population is more than seven billion].
For us, the challenge is to continue Jesus’ work by less miraculous means. We are called to feed the hungry, but we do so by providing funds for organizations that can buy, ship, and distribute food. We also support missions that teach people the skills to produce food or skills that earn money to Pay farmers for food.
We have the ability to bring our resources together to feed, clothe, house, heal, and educate people around the world.
Remember that Jesus didn’t make food appear out of nothing. He took what the disciples had to offer and then used it to multiply the blessing. It is a miracle, but still reveals something restorative about Jesus. Jesus brings us healing and satisfies our needs with miracles of commonplace things that restore us each day. And remember, this miracle happened in the sharing of the food. The fish and loaves were multiplied as they passed through human hands.
So far in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus heals and restores, but he feeds us, too. In today’s passage, Jesus is led by tender compassion to feed the people in two ways: First by teaching them words to feed their souls, and secondly by supporting their daily need for food with a simple meal. Our needs are not refined or extravagant; we need simple love, truth, and daily bread.
Question to Ponder: We often pray for restoration of health, employment, or relationships. What can we share of our time, talents, and possessions to restore these things for others?