In Mark’s story about Jesus twice huge crowds of people are fed by the miraculous multiplication of food. In the first instance (Mark 6:30-44), as his apostles return from their first ministry, Jesus leads them to a quiet place for a time of recovery. The crowds discern his intent and travel on ahead so that when he arrives, they are present. With unusual compassion Jesus takes time to teach them. As the day concludes the people are hungry, but no resources are available in the area to help them. A potential disaster looms and Jesus requires his disciples to find a way to feed them – but they have no solution. Discerning from them that only “five loaves and two fishes” are available, Jesus prays, and then begins to break the loaves and fishes into manageable portions, filling basket after basket, until over five thousand men, along with women and children, are fed. What is amazing is that every one “was fully satisfied”, that is they had enough to eat so that they wanted no more. Jesus’ disciples gathered up twelve baskets full of leftovers.
The second occurrence (Mark 8:1-10) concerns people in Gentile regions. For three days a large crowd had followed Jesus and out of compassion for their physical needs, he wants to send them away. Without food, however, there is grave danger that they will not be able to survive such a journey. The disciples challenge Jesus – “Where is anyone able to find bread to the point of satisfaction these people in this deserted place?” Seven loaves are found and Jesus, after prayer, begins to break them into fragments so that his disciples might distribute them to more than four thousand men. Again Mark tells us that they ate and “were fully satisfied” (8:8), with seven large baskets of leftovers collected.
The verb translated ‘fully satisfied’ has connotations such as “to cause to have as much as they wanted” or “to give them food so that they didn’t want any more”.
In both cases Jesus’ actions are motivated by compassion in the face of dire human need. Small amounts of food are miraculously multiplied so that God’s people in these deserted areas eat to the point of satisfaction (just as God supplied Israel’s needs miraculously during the wilderness wanderings). So profuse was the supply that more was leftover after everyone was fed than Jesus had at the start.
I think it is important to note that for Mark the ability and desire of Jesus to feed the multitudes arises from their desperate situation as “sheep having no shepherd” (6:34). Without a shepherd, sheep are in danger, particularly when it comes finding food and drink. Jesus acts as shepherd for Israel (Mark 6) and the Gentiles (Mark 8) and provides them with food (Psalm 23) to the point of full satisfaction and he does it miraculously. What he does at the physical level, he also does spiritually. Jesus is the one who promises blessing for those “who hunger and thirst after righteousness” claiming that “they shall be filled to satisfaction” (Matthew 5:6). In confidence he encouraged his followers to ask their heavenly father for “daily bread”, as well as “forgiveness”. He could fill both needs to the point of satisfaction.
Application: as you reflect upon the work of Jesus today,
- identify special ways in which God has ‘fully satisfied’ your needs, perhaps in unexpected ways, and give Him thanks;
- if meeting people’s spiritual needs to the point of ‘full satisfaction’ was the goal of Jesus, our good Shepherd, how does this define our role as leaders, i.e. shepherds, of God’s people today? Consider how you are dependent as a ministry leader upon God’s resources to fully satisfy the needs of people.
- with the compassionate response of Jesus in full view, we can have confidence to approach our heavenly father with our needs, particularly those that threaten to overwhelm and destroy us.