Consider how the disciples felt when Jesus told them to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. How might we respond to Jesus’ startling command to do the impossible?
I. Establish the text
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
What had the apostles been doing and teaching prior to v.30?
31, 32 The religious leaders need time to decompress, rest, and eat so that they may serve.
Jesus and the Apostles attempt to sneak off for a vacation, but are found.
34 Even though Jesus needed rest, he took time to teach this flock. A large crowd gathers needing guidance. Jesus teaches them. What did Jesus teach them? Did he teach them about loving one’s neighbor so that they multiplied the loaves the disciples provided?
The Lectionary omits Jesus feeding the 5000.
As night approaches, Jesus directs the Apostles to feed the people. With five loaves and 2 fish, 5000 are well fed and satisfied.
Where is Bethsaida? Which mountain does he pray from that overlooks this lake?
The Lectionary omits Jesus walking on the water. Ends by explanation of the fear of the apostles was due to them not being able to grasp the feeding of the 5000. Can our minds grasp it even now?
Mark does not want us to think that the feeding of the 5000 was simply the sharing of what the people had, as perhaps the apostles originally did. The juxtaposition of the story of walking on water wants us to hear that this was a real miracle.
52 Why were the apostles’ hearts hardened? Was it to prevent terrorizing the crowd? What would have happened if the apostles’ had understood the loaves in the presence of the crowd?
53 What is the deeper spiritual meaning to this verse? Had they really arrived spiritually, or had they merely come ashore for awhile?
54 Were they still attempting to avoid recognition or had their retreat ended?
55-56 News of Jesus’ ability to heal preceded his arrival.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- In the preceding narrative, Jesus had sent out the apostles proclaiming repentance, casting out demons, and curing the sick. Mark notes that this had created a significant stir. Herod had ordered John the Baptizer imprisoned to quell the crowd.
- The passage is preceded and followed by several passages of healings and teachings telling about the ministry of Jesus. This passage occurs as the disciples regroup after being sent out in pairs to minister to the people. The ministry of the apostles and Jesus was so effective, the people thought it was John the Baptist brought back to life or Elijah.
- The walking on water passage is the center of the Markan sandwich, with reports of healings and teachings on both sides.
- Lectionary clipped out the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water, and continues with additional healings at Gennesaret and in the wherever Jesus went. The healings lose emotional impact adjacent to the feed or walking stories.
- The feeding of the 5000 provides opportunities to examine our participation in ministry.
- In the following passage Jesus condemns the Pharisees for being closed minded and creating barriers between the people and the grace of God.
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
- Written by Mark as a teaching guide for disciples and new converts in about 65 AD. Mark was a disciple of Peter and probably had access to other Apostles.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
- Matthew 14:13-21,22-33 – Jesus arrives by himself. The disciples come later. Text is very similar. Cuts out complaint of the cost of feeding so many. Adds Peter’s request to join Jesus walking on the water. The walking on water opens their eyes to see that Jesus is the Son of God.
- Mark 8:1-10 – Jesus feeds 4000. Seven loaves and a few small fish. The crowd has not eaten for three days. Both are done out of compassion for the crowd. Again they depart by boat. This time they end up at Bethsaida. Both stories are bracketed by healings.
- Mark 8:14-17 – recaps both of these stories. The numerology may be significant. However, the bottom line seems to be: ‘Ask and you shall receive bountifully.’
- Luke 9:10-17 – Context is the same regathering after sending out the twelve. Story is much more compact. No complaints from the disciples. No direct connections between miracles and Christology. Occurs in Bethsaida. Luke’s emphasis is Jesus’ compassion on the crowd.
- John 6:1-13, 15-21 – Jesus on retreat with disciples. A boy provides the 5 BARLEY loaves and 2 fish. The feeding itself directly reveals to all the people that Jesus is the “prophet who is to come into the world.” Destination by boat was Capernum. Jesus’ headquarters between Bethsaida and Gennesarette. Jesus identifies himself with “I AM.” Similarly Jesus mysterious departure is received as a sign by the people. The feeding is used as an illustration for “I am the bread of live.”
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- Hearts: 1st century biology associated reason with the heart. Thus hardening of heart is analogous to not being able to grasp meaning.
- Twelve: Indicative of the twelve tribes of Israel.
- v.52 alla: this Greek word may be used as the conjunction ‘but’, or as an intensive, ‘indeed’. This allows the verse to hang together better.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- The style is Gospel narrative.
- The author probably intended us to read this as theological fact. Although exaggeration was normative of this style.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
Jesus: I am thankful that the Father has chosen to give me such powers to reveal to these people such great signs that they may eventually come to recognize God’s grace.
The Disciples: Who is this man? He must surely be a great prophet for he does signs beyond our wildest dreams/nightmares.
The Crowd: We don’t care who he is, as long as he continues to feed us and teach us and heal our sick.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
Apostles’ left for Bethsaida and came to land at Gennesaret. Both are on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Gennesaret is in Galilee. Bethsaida is to the East in Philip. The sea is about 15 miles long and 7 miles wide.
The body of water and location of the feeding are un-named. But the apostles’ intended and actual destinations are named, although they are unconnected from the preceeding and following accounts. Bethsaida is the traditional home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip. Gennesaret may refer to the body of water rather than a specific village.
The number of fish and loaves served is emphasized, yet their symbolism is not explained. If the fish is a symbol of Christianity, then why two fish?
What is significant about the grass being green? Is it an allusion to the 23rd Psalm?
What is the significance about the size of the groups of people on the grass, 100’s and 50’s?
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: The walking on water is sandwiched between two more typical prophetic actions feeding the multitude and healing the sick. Both of these signs were performed by Elisha but on a smaller scale. The walking on water is a new sign. No previous evidence of this in Scripture. The implication is that Christ Jesus is radically different from the previous prophets.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- Jesus demands more of the disciples than they are prepared to recognize that they can give to the people; i.e. feeding the 5000.
- The disciples don’t really understand what Jesus represents.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Amazing stories. Too good to be true.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Although Jesus regularly confronts the law as a needless barrier to God’s grace, he wears a fringe on his cloak in observance of the law.
Job 9:8 and 38:16 alludes that only God walks on water.
Ralph Martin (Knox Preaching Guides: Mark. JKP, 1981.) compared Mark’s account of the disciples’ return with Luke’s account and discerns Jesus displeasure by the lack of comment by Jesus and an immediate withdrawal for instruction and reflection. Recalling the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness (from Luke) he discerns Jesus fretting an uprising against the Romans as the people latch on to the healing and feeding miracles apart from the lessons which the disciples had not grasped. He interprets the green grass as indicative of early spring, thus the feeding of the 5,000 occurred near the Passover, adding to Messianic expectations. He interprets Jesus immediate departure, apart from the disciples, as avoiding the crowd making him king (see John 6:15).
Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Interpretation: Mark. JKP, 1983.) considers three different dimensions of the feeding of the 5000 for interpretation: (1) The Good Shepherd – Jesus confronts the disciples with an impossible command, “You give them something to eat,” and “supports us with the abundant promise of more than enough;” (2) Blind Disciples – In the presence of miracles, the disciples did not have eyes to see, yet Jesus continues to invite us “to trust his mighty power and abundant blessing;” (3) Bread in the Wilderness – Jesus connects himself backward to Moses by providing bread in a lonely place, and forward to the Eucharist with “words that become living bread that satisfies our deepest hunger and gives us strength to make it home.”
Pheme Perkins (“The Gospel of Mark,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1995.) favorably compares Jesus having compassion Numbers 27:17, 1 Kings 22:17, and Ezekiel 34:5-6. She notes that early Christians understood the feeding of the 5000 as anticipating the Eucharist. She reflects that Jesus demonstrate the need for both teaching and healing, both teaching and feeding; that neither the social gospel nor preaching are sufficient by themselves. Regarding Jesus walking on water, she reflects: “If miracles alone create faith, the disciples have witnessed more than enough for their faith to be strong. … Our disbelief has less to do with the an anticipation that God will do miracles than with the suspicion that perhaps life would be just the same even if we did not put out the effort to be active members of the Christian community.”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
Christ Jesus has revealed himself through miracles so that his Gospel might be received by the people. The miracle stories provide a teaching opportunity to receive the breath of God’s compassion for each person and give authority to the story.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Accept God acting in new ways, and act with compassion through the controversies of these new revelations.