Feeding the Multitudes – March 18, 2018, the Fifth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 89:5-18, Mark 6:30-44
March 18, 2018
“Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.” That is the principle known as the “The Conservation of Mass.” Do you remember that? (Just humor me and say you remember it!) Ok, well I’ve always thought of that as being attributed to Sir. Isaac Newton in his “Laws of Thermodynamics.”
By the way, I’ve always had my own Law of Thermodynamics! And it’s right up there with Newton’s! My law states that “It is impossible for a human being to get ice out of a freezer without dropping one cube on the floor.” Think about that next time it happens to you! (I’ve done a lot of experimentation on this principle!)
Well, it turns out it wasn’t Isaac Newton. I looked some things up this week, and I realized that Newtown came up with the law of “The Conservation of Energy.” The law of “The Conservation of Mass” actually dates back to several Greek philosophers four centuries before Christ! They said that “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” Which I believe was also the Rogers and Hammerstein’s law of Conservation of Mass…
Anyway… the reason I bring all this up today, (which I’m sure you’re dying to know at this point!) is that, in this story, Jesus seems to be defying the law of “The Conservation of Mass!” He is creating mass where there was no mass! Specifically, he is increasing – and I would say increasing exponentially – the mass of the loaves and fishes! By the way, there will be a quiz on all of this next week. So I hope you’ll be studying!!
As I think about this miracle, I have to admit, I’ve never gotten a very good mental image of how it happened. I wonder, for instance, how many baskets Jesus used here to distribute the loaves and fishes? At the end, it says they had twelve baskets that they used to pick up the pieces. Did they have more? Did the loaves and fishes increase in size as they distributed them? Or did they reappear as people took the pieces out to eat? How long did this all take? I never really got a good picture of how this happened.
Then, I try to understand the math. How many “companies” (That’s the word in my Bible) How many companies of people were there? It says they were in groups of 50 to 100. So we’re talking about anywhere between 50 and 100 of these large companies! Picture that! And remember Mark says there were 5,000 men. Some scholars have suggested that there were more because Mark wouldn’t have included the women in that number. I’m not so sure about that, but whatever the number was, even if there were “just” five thousand, we’re talking about five loaves for at least five thousand! (Oh by the way, math will be part of the quiz, too!)
In our Bible Study this week we looked at different versions of this story. And like one of the versions we read, because I think it captured the “ongoing nature” of the past tense in Greek. Often in Greek the past was not just a matter that somebody “did something.” Their past tense often implied that someone “kept on doing something.” So, in this case, they didn’t just “hand out” the loaves and fishes, “They kept on handing out the loaves and fishes.” So there seemed to have been a going back and forth from Jesus to the companies of people, as they “kept on” handing them food! (You’re probably wondering if grammar is now going to be on the quiz!)
So, they “kept on handing the food to the people.” I don’t know if that helps your “mental imagery” or not. Frankly, the whole thing still “boggles” my mind. But maybe that makes it a little easier to understand this amazing thing that Jesus did. And make no mistake! This is seen as a major miracle! Is it on the level of the calming of the sea? Maybe. But however it was seen, three of the four Gospel writers tell us about it!
As we consider this picture. There are a couple of things I want you to notice here. First of all, this is an event that Jesus staged. He might not have planned it. But when the situation presented itself he was very intentional about he did. As the disciples said, it would have been perfectly reasonable for these people to go to the nearest town and find something to eat. But Jesus said “No.” “You give them food!” And then, it didn’t “just happen.” He didn’t just stop teaching, wait for the people to sit down, and then start giving them food. He commanded them all to sit down by companies on the green grass. (Mark is the only one who mentions that it’s “green” grass.”) Once Jesus decided to do this, he was very intentional.
I believe he had a reason for doing this. And it wasn’t just a matter of sustenance! Later, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he first gave a very public prayer. Do you remember that? He said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me, but I say this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe!” There’s no doubt in my mind that this was the same thing. He wanted the people to believe. And us as well.
That’s part of what is meant here when it says that he looked out on the crowd and “He had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” In a very real sense, Jesus was feeding the people with more than just bread and loaves. He was feeding more than just their bellies. He was feeding their souls! And the same is true of us. Our souls are fed, through this story.
The other thing I want you to think about here is this. Who are the “unbelievers” in this story? It’s not the Scribes or the Pharisees this time, is it?! It’s the disciples. Their unbelief is very apparent here! When Jesus said, “You give the people something to eat.” They said, “Shall we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread?” A denarius was equivalent to a days wages for an average person. So this is like saying “Should we go buy a year’s wages worth of bread?!” Make no mistake, this is a sarcastic statement!
One of the things that happened throughout his ministry, and Mark points this out very well, was that, as time went on, Jesus continued to have more and more difficulty, not with the Pharisees and religious leaders, but with his own disciples. “Why are you afraid?” he would say. “Have you no faith?” I believe this was a source of great frustration for him. They didn’t understand! Eventually they would, of course. But at the time, they didn’t! They became the skeptics! They became the stumbling blocks! But! Would we have understood?
In the very next story, Mark references their unbelief in this one! They were in a boat, in a strong wind, and they saw him walking on the sea! He got in the boat and the wind ceased. “And they were utterly astounded!” They were dumbfounded! They didn’t get it! They were right there watching, and they didn’t get it! And Mark adds, “for they didn’t understand about the loaves [either], because their hearts were hardened.” And in this case, that phrase meant “It just wasn’t getting through to them.”
So I ask you again, “What about us?” Is our faith ever like there’s? Are there times when it’s “just not getting through to us?” Are there times when the frustrations and stresses of this life overwhelm us, and we don’t trust God like we wish we could? Like I said last week, we think, “Sure, God’s power is amazing and he has done great things, but our problems, well that’s another story…
Lent is a good time to think about all that. It’s a good time to think about what we believe about Jesus. It’s a time when we ask ourselves if we believe in God’s power, and if we trust his power. And remember trust is something we learn to do. We trust God a little, and then our ability to trust him grows. So we exercise that trust. We trust a little more each day.
As we do, think about how Jesus fed the multitudes. He fed their bodies. He fed their souls. May we know he is feeding our souls as well!
Eternal God, may your power be evident to us. May we see your hand in our world and in our lives. May we learn to trust you more and more, as we seek to follow Jesus, our Savior. For we pray in his name, Amen.