A sermon on Mark 6:30-44 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 21 October 2018
Food is joy. Food is friendship. Food is life. Food is for everyday and special occasions as well. Whether it is a birthday party or refreshments after a funeral, we mark both the high and low points of life with food.
In Mark chapter 6 we see Jesus provide food. For a huge crowd. I mean, I couldn’t cater for 50, let alone 5000 men plus women and children, maybe ten to fifteen thousand people. And he didn’t just provide a little for everyone, but enough to satisfy them and then even more. And he did it so that they ended up with more food than they started with. It was a miracle. It was a sign, pointing to Jesus, to who he was and to what he does.
It is a sign that Jesus was the good shepherd. He had meant to take his disciples to a secluded spot. Jesus had sent them out on their own preaching tour and they had just come back, burning with stories of what they’d seen and done, and they were in need of rest and food.
But the secluded spot quickly filled with people. They had followed Jesus and found him. And when he saw them – all of them, so many of them – Jesus felt sorry for them. A lesser man would have been frustrated. A lesser man would have resented them and told them to leave him alone. But he had compassion for them because they looked distressed, lost and alone, like sheep which have no shepherd.
The truth is that the people had plenty of shepherds. They had plenty of leaders and guides and providers. They had shepherds like King Herod who put John the Baptist in prison and cut off his head to please his step-daughter. They had shepherds like the synagogue leaders and chief priests and scribes and Pharisees who plotted together to arrest Jesus and to destroy him. They had plenty of shepherds, but not one good one among them. Their guides were blind. Their providers fed on those they should have fed. There was not one among them who would lead them along the paths of righteousness. Not one who could provide them with rest and nourishment. They had no shepherd, but Jesus.
He felt sorry for the crowd and set aside his plans for his disciples in order to teach the people. He knew that the interruptions his Father sent him were no coincidences. We all make many plans, but our heavenly Father’s plans are at least ten times better. Jesus taught them. He provided them with truth. He gave them the good news of the kingdom. He fed them with his word of life.
And then he fed them with real actual food. No one had had anything to eat and the hour was late. “Let them go, Lord,” his disciples said. “Give them at least a chance to find food somewhere in this wasteland.”
“You feed them,” said Jesus.
“Eight month’s wages wouldn’t buy food to feed this crowd and we are about eight month’s wages short. All we have is one little boy’s lunch,” they complained.
“Get the people to sit down,” said Jesus, “and give me what you have.”
Everything was done according to his instructions. The people sat down in groups, families mixed with friends and strangers. Jesus blessed the food, five loaves of bread and two fish, and I don’t mean two sharks or marlin, but tiny baitfish. He gave thanks for it to his Father and started breaking them into pieces and handing the pieces to his disciples who handed them out.
It was not elaborate fare. It was not a fancy banquet. It would even look poor compared to the bistro at the local pub. It was only simple food. Bread and fish. Not much good if you were gluten intolerant and allergic to seafood. But it was all they needed and more to fill their empty bellies and twelve baskets of leftovers.
It is a sign that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Because he provides for his sheep. He leads them. He guides them. He teaches them. He gives them rest and refreshment. He gives them life and hope and joy.
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup isn’t half full or half empty, but full to the brim and overflowing. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The Lord Jesus is our shepherd. Who is with us in the dark valley, because he himself walked it. Who can lead us out because he found the way out. Who gives us rest from our fears and anxieties. Who feeds us not just with bread, but with a never ending feast of fellowship and joy in his coming kingdom.
Jesus fed the crowd, leaving more food than he started with. It is a sign that he is our shepherd. It is also a sign that he was anointed with the Spirit of the creation. Because God makes food every day. Every day God is making bread and fish. God makes bread by sending rain which germinates the little packet of life we call the seed so that it grows into crops that produce more seed that are harvested and winnowed and milled and baked into bread. So that when we say grace over our bread we are not being ungrateful to those who grew it or baked it, but giving the credit to the Lord who provided the water and nutrients and genetic coding without which there would be no food.
God makes bread every day. And he makes fish too. Every single day God is making fish from other fish to make more fish. The same Spirit of life that created all things in the beginning is at work day in day out to sustain and maintain God’s creation. This is the Spirit at work in the life of Jesus. Who made bread from bread and turned fish into more fish. And gave sight to the blind. And strength to the lame. And life to the dead. And spoke to the forces of nature and they did as they were told.
This is the same Spirit of Jesus at work in us to open our eyes to the truth and to convict our hearts of our sin and to give us faith in Christ for salvation and to equip us with gifts of service. So that we may become like the disciples, who brought what little they had to Jesus, one little boy’s lunch, and in Jesus’ hands and with his blessing that little became more than enough for others.
Jesus fed the five thousand. Like all his miracles it is a sign. It is a sign that he is our good shepherd. It is a sign that he was anointed with the creator Spirit. And it is a sign that he himself is the bread of life. He is the gift he gives.
In fact, it is fascinating how important food is in the Gospel of Mark. In chapter 1, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law from her fever and she gets up and waits on them.
In chapter 2, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees, “Why do we fast, but you and your disciples don’t?” Jesus said, “How can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them?”
In chapter 3, Jesus is teaching such a large crowd in a house that he can’t even eat. And his family try to come and take charge of him.
In chapter 4, Jesus tells the parable of the farmer who sows his seed on the four soils and in one soil it grows to an abundant harvest.
In chapter 5, he heals the little girl and tells them to give her something to eat.
In chapter 6, he feeds a crowd and feeds another crowd in chapter 8. Again in chapter 8, Jesus says to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of Herod and the Pharisees.” The disciples say, “He means we forgot to bring food.” Jesus has fed two enormous crowds of people from practically nothing, and the disciples are still worrying that they don’t have enough food. Only one loaf of bread among them. As if one loaf of bread in the hands of Jesus could not have fed an army.
This preoccupation with food in Mark’s Gospel sounds like either just another ad for “My Kitchen Rules” or a foreshadowing of the last great meal of Jesus with his disciples in Mark chapter 14. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” And they all drank from it.
It is a sign that Jesus is not just the giver, but that he is the gift himself. That he is not just the feeder, but the food of life itself. For what is food, but life that ends in death that gives life to others? Plants that are harvested for their seeds which are ground up for our bread. Fish which are caught and cooked and served on plates. What else then is our true food, but our Saviour, our Good Shepherd, our provider, the bearer of the Spirit of life, who gives his life so that our death becomes his and his life becomes ours? This is our food, the Lord Jesus himself who is our joy and nourishment, our fellowship and our life. Jesus who is ours for everyday and for every special occasion.
Because food is life. And Jesus fed the five thousand to show that he provides, that he is the giver and also the gift that he gives. Our Good Shepherd who lay down his life for his sheep. And to those who are distressed, lost and all alone, he gives all that they need and more. He gives himself. So as you share food today, tomorrow, every day, next week, next celebration, bread and fish and other things as well, do not fail to feed on Christ by faith for he is our true bread. Our life, our all.