This post is an excerpt from the sermon I’m preparing for this upcoming Sunday – but I initially wrote it as a simple rave in response to some of the reading I’ve done around my passage – Mark 6.30 – 56 – so this is actually the best place for it!
Regarding the feeding of the five thousand, I have read a number of commentators who explain how everyone must have brought their lunch but hidden it so that they wouldn’t have to share, and then when they saw the young boy who brought forth his loaves and fishes for Jesus they were shamed into sharing what they had also – and that is how five thousand were fed on five loaves and two fishes.
The main concern of such an explanation is to explain away the miracle! To make it fit with what we think we know of the physical world, in which a miniscule amount of food would never feed so great a multitude. That is not the gospel!
The gospel is not concerned with ‘how’ the miracle happened; it has no need to explain or explain away the amazing appearance of all this food. The point is that God provides. It’s meant to be miraculous. I guess there’s a certain sort of quiet satisfaction in saying that Jesus’ moral influence is so great that he can persuade selfish people to stop being selfish for a few moments when there is no need for it, but I don’t actually think that that is the point. The point is that Jesus is a greater prophet than Elisha who fed a hundred people with twenty loaves – and had some left over according to the Word of the Lord. And Jesus is a greater saviour than Moses, who led the people of Israel into the wilderness, where the heavenly father gave them Manna.
Miracles are not puzzles for us to unpick. Not unless we want to destroy the meaning of the bible. The meaning of the miracles is always some variation on “God was here!” Those who scramble around for some other explanation are trying to duck the discomfort of the supernatural; trying to appease the determined materialist, by saying that nothing ‘odd’ has happened at all – it was all perfectly natural and the gospel writers were merely naïve and ignorant and misunderstood what we, sophisticated and scientific 21st century readers, can clearly see was simply a matter of moral persuasion. Nothing to worry about! There is no evidence of God! You can stay safe in your blinkered bunkers, and never have to face up to the reality of your creator’s claims upon you.
And what does our creator claim? Simply that he will care for his people. Jesus saw this great crowd – that they were like sheep without a shepherd – and he had compassion on them.
That is the main point. There are obvious references to Moses and Elisha, yes, and they show that Jesus is the Jewish messiah, but the key reference here is to the compassion of God in Jesus Christ, and that compassion is for all peoples.