Feeding the Sheep

Feeding the Sheep | Mark 6:35-41

“When it was already late, His disciples approached Him and said, “This place is a wilderness, and it is already late! Send them away, so they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat.” “You give them something to eat,” He responded. They said to Him, “Should we go and buy 200 denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat? ” And He asked them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look.” When they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He instructed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks of hundreds and fifties. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke the loaves. He kept giving them to His disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of pieces of bread and fish. Now those who ate the loaves were 5,000 men.” (Mark 6:35-44 HCSB)

It is hard to ask for help. I think a part of this struggle has been ingrained into me from the time I was young by my parents. They wanted us to learn to be self-sufficient, productive, hard working and contributing members of society. For the most part, I don’t think any of those things are bad or wrong but they make it hard to ask others for help. I also think part of it comes from our tendency to want others to view us as successful and having achieved the status of being a mature adult in our culture. Those who need help must be weak, unintelligent, lazy or immature. To be honest, that’s all complete nonsense.

If we were honest with ourselves and with everyone else, we would acknowledge that we all need help at one time or another. While I consider myself to be widely read, fairly well educated, moderately intelligent and fairly resourceful, I must admit that there are lots of things I don’t know and simply do not have the capacity to understand. For example, I am fairly well adept with technology, computers and a wide array of software. But I’ve recently begun trying to understand the ideas and concepts behind a type of computing model, quantum computing. The more I try to understand it the more lost I feel. Current computer technology is based on a simple binary logic gate or switch (bit). The status of that switch/gate is in one of two possible conditions – on or off. That makes perfect logical sense to me. Quantum computing, based on the quantum theory of physics, allows those bits to be in either state or both states at the same time. That idea doesn’t make sense in my brain, yet. I’m still trying to read and understand and learn. It is an ongoing process.

In this week’s focal passage, we will encounter the rest of the story regarding Jesus as the shepherd for God’s people and it includes a lesson on learning to be dependent upon God and asking for help. It may require that you make some adjustments in how you view yourself and how you view Jesus. It most certainly will challenge your faith and, maybe, even your logical ability to understand and apply your faith in God. Let’s dive in…

As you’ll recall, Mark has told us about Jesus sending the “apostles” out in pairs to teach, preach, drive out unclean spirits and to heal in His name and through His power. He then inserts the story regarding John the Baptizer to illustrate what may happen to those who are obedient to God and committed to His kingdom. He then calls our attention back as the apostles return to Jesus and give a report of their work. Jesus decides they need some rest, so they take the boat to a wilderness location. However, the crowd watches and then hurries to along the shore and is waiting for them when they arrive. Mark tells us, Jesus looked on the crowd and recognized that they were like “sheep without a shepherd” and He had compassion on them and began teaching them. Last week, I tried to emphasize the importance of their need for a Savior Shepherd who would teach them about God and how to know Him, walk with Him in His new kingdom.

Now, Mark tells us the time is late enough in the afternoon that the disciples approach Jesus about sending the crowd away so that they can buy food. The crowd has just been learning about this new kingdom of God and Jesus seizes upon the opportunity to demonstrate to the disciples and the crowd the true nature of this “new” Exodus of God’s people. As I mentioned before, the people and the disciples need to encounter, experience and learn to trust the presence, provision and power of God. We do, too!

First, notice that the disciples come to Jesus and remind Him of where they are and what time it is and encourage Him to send the crowd away into the surrounding towns, villages and farms to buy food. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Jesus, it’s getting late in the day. Send them away before it gets dark so they can find and buy food for their evening meal before their trip home. Jesus responds, “You feed them.” I don’t know about you but I might have panicked, right then. Wait, what? You want US to feed them? We didn’t plan plan for this. What do you want us to do? They ask, “Should we go buy 200 denarii worth of bread to give them something to eat?”

Buy 200 denarii worth of bread to give them “something” to eat? That amount is about 8 months wages for a working man and it would be enough to give each of them something to eat. It appears they had already assessed the issue and determined that they could buy 200 denarii worth of bread. Estimates by some scholars indicate that might buy enough bread to give each man half of a small loaf.

Some doubt they would have had 200 denarii in their possession and their response is filled with questioning and a sense of incredulity. I believe it is more of a response based on resource availability. I think they had already anticipated Jesus’ response and assessed their ability to respond. “Jesus, we have enough to go buy 200 denarii worth of bread. It would give each man something to eat. Is that what you want us to do?” Apparently not…

Jesus wants them to learn about God’s provision, too. Remember, He sent them out to preach and teach without supplies, money or extra clothing in pairs to experience it. Now He’s going to demonstrate that God’s provision is also available through them for those they are sent to shepherd. They assess their financial resources to meet the need and determine they have enough to go buy them “something” to eat. Once again, Mark is painting a word picture with a very stark contrast he wants us to see.

So, Jesus asks: “How many loaves do you have? Go look.” They do a quick assessment and reply, “Five, and two fish.” They could go buy several thousand small loaves of bread with the money they have available, but Jesus really, really wants them to learn this lesson. In fact, this is the only miracle, outside of the resurrection, that appears in all four of the gospels. That’s how important it is for them (and us) to get this. Jesus instructs them to prepare for the meal by having the people “sit down in groups on the green grass.” The term used here to “sit” is the same one used for “reclining” at a banquet and it clearly calls to mind the Shepherd’s Psalm (Psalm 23) and is in stark contrast to Herod’s banquet (vv. 14-29).

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.” (Psalms 23:1-6 HCSB)

Like the Psalmist’s shepherd, our Lord comes along and does the same for this crowd. He sees them as sheep without a shepherd and responds with compassion to them. First, He teaches them about God’s kingdom rule and reign and calls upon them to walk with Him in humble repentance while striving for obedience to God’s will and commandments. Then He begins to meet their physical need for food. He leads them to sit (literally, to lie down or recline as during a meal) in groups on the green grass.

Next, He takes the bread and fish and, looking up to heaven, He blesses and breaks the bread. I think He likely spoke these words: “Praise be to you, O Lord our God, King of the world, who makes bread to come forth from the earth, and who provides for all that you have created.” This is the common table blessing every Jewish father would speak over the bread at the meal. But notice, He did not look down as expected but actually looked up to heaven as He spoke the blessing. While we don’t know precisely when the miracle of the multiplied bread and fish occurs, it does say that “He kept giving them (bread and fish) to His disciples to set before the people.” So, the Father’s supply for their need is flowing from the Son, through the disciples and to the people.

Why is that important? Because it is also how God worked in the early church and how God intends to continue working through the modern church. In many ways, the modern American church has abdicated its responsibility in this area to governmental (local, state and national), non-governmental and para-church organizations. I’m not talking about a “social gospel” but I AM talking about a gospel-filled response to a social need. I say the “modern” church because historically speaking the church has been much more involved in meeting social needs in the past. You don’t have to look too far into our past to find the church intimately involved in ministering to these needs. That’s the reason so many schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters and adoption agencies have historical ties to the church.

Why use the five loaves and two fish instead of buying the bread to distribute? Simply put, so God the Father would be glorified through God the Son. The miracle left no doubt regarding the source of their meal and the deity of Jesus. The presence, power and provision of God was on full display. That is still God’s purpose in our ministries. He wants His presence, power and provision to be demonstrated through our churches. As I stated above, the Father’s provision for our needs will flow from the Son, through the disciples and to the people.

Unfortunately, our response to a perceived need is much like the disciple’s response. We assess available resources and respond based on what we have and what we can provide. We have enough to do this but we don’t have enough to do that. We can buy enough for everyone to have some. But that’s NOT what God does! Pay close attention, here…

“Everyone ate and was filled.” Everyone ate. Everyone was filled. God provided and it was enough to fill them up! Take five loaves, two small fish and mix in the presence, the power and the provision of God and it will always be more than enough with grace spilling over on everyone nearby. Listen up church, He is STILL enough and ALL we need for the ministry He has given us. We don’t need to do a better job of fund raising to pay for the ministry needs of the church. We need to do a better job of bringing what we have to Him and asking Him to bless it as we begin handing it out to those in need around us. God is not blessed nor is He glorified when we fund ministry out of our abundance. We are. God is blessed and glorified when we give everything to Him and then depend on Him to meet our needs. God is blessed and glorified when we humbly come into His presence, boldly call upon His power and lovingly depend upon His provision.

Finally, grace splashed out of God’s abundant provision. The disciples picked up 12 baskets full of bread and fish. While the type of basket is not specifically named, it seems likely that it was a small, personal basket used for carrying these types of provisions. A bit like our modern lunch box. The disciples were also physically blessed by the overflow of grace (abundance) in God’s provision. You will be, too. Let God’s presence, power and provision flow through you and you will be blessed by the grace of God that splashes out on you. When it happens, just sit back on the green grass and rest in His presence, enjoy His peace and bask in the warmth of His love. Trust me, it will not only be worth it but it will also energize you for the next task He has on the agenda.

Have you ever experienced His presence? Have you encountered His power? Have you overflowed with His provision? You can. He doesn’t leave you to wander alone in the wilderness. Just trust the Shepherd, walk with Him. He’ll lead you to lie down on the green grass and invite you to drink from the cool, still water. He’ll stand with you, defend you and protect you when you walk through the valley. But He will also prepare a table and invite you to sit with Him at the feast as He pours His grace upon you like anointing oil over your head. If you’ll love Him and walk with Him you’ll be filled up with His love and it will splash out onto everyone around you. I’m looking forward to seeing you around. Welcome to the flock.

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