I find this passage in Mark’s Gospel to be an absolutely amazing and instructive passage – and not just because of the Feeding of the 5000. We will have plenty of opportunities to meditate on that famous miracle, but today I see something else of great importance in this passage: in fact, several things.
If you look closely, Mark 6:30-44 (and the passages leading up to it) provides a 7-step mini-handbook for the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Although these steps could be re-arranged and described in many ways, here is one good way of seeing our life as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Step 1: God’s call.
As always, the work of God and of His people begins with God Himself, and not with us. In Step 1 of discipleship, Jesus Christ calls us to Himself. The call of Jesus is not a one-time event but is repeated in the life of the disciples every day. Some days it comes with more power and specificity, as when God calls us to a particular task or to the next step in being a disciple. In Mark 3 (a few chapters before today’s passage), Jesus’ call of disciples to Himself is especially clear. But He calls them all throughout the Gospels.
Step 2: The disciple’s faithful response
When Jesus calls His disciples, they respond with faith. The faithful disciple hears the Word of God in his life and responds by receiving it into his heart and obeying it. This part of the life of the disciple is obvious, and we hear about it often in the Gospels and throughout the Bible. Like the call of God, our faithful response is to be a daily event, even if sometimes a more dramatic call has been made which requires a more dramatic faithfulness on our part. We see the disciples responding to Jesus’ call in Mark 3:13, but also again in 6:12-13.
Step 3: Jesus entrusts His ministry to His disciples
After Jesus has first called His disciples, and they have responded, He calls them further into His life by actually entrusting His ministry to them. This is His goal all along because once He is in heaven He will continue His ministry through His Spirit-filled disciples. Jesus entrusts His ministry to His disciples in many places in the Gospels, but most recently we’ve seen it in Mark 6:7ff, when Jesus sent out the disciples 2 x 2. We also see it in the feeding of the 5000 when Jesus asks the disciples to feed the hungry and distribute the bread that gives life.
Step 4: The disciples give up their lives for the Master in fulfilling His ministry
Here in Mark 6, we see the disciples’ faithful response in verses 12 and 13 when they obey Jesus’ call to preach, cast out demons, and heal the sick. The disciples who have followed Jesus wherever He went to hear His Word must now go out on their own and fulfill Jesus’ ministry. Only when a disciple has gotten to the point that he is helping to make disciples is he truly acting like the Master and fulfilling the Great Commission.
Mark’s portrayal of the life of the disciples in Chapter 6 is a living picture of the
sacrificial life of a disciple that St. Paul writes so passionately about. In Mark 6, we read that being a disciple of Jesus Christ often means giving up ourselves for the good of others. In this case, it means giving up two of our greatest desires and needs: food and sleep. In verses 30-32 we read about how Jesus commands His disciples to come to a deserted place because they must have been exhausted with their labors on behalf of others. So busy had they been in doing the Master’s will, and so many were the people that were coming to them, that the disciples did not even have time to eat! This is something we often miss in the passages leading up to the feeding of the 5000.
Step 5: The disciples share their acts of discipleship with the Master and each other
After the disciples had gone out to fulfill Jesus’ commission and ministry, they didn’t just slink back to camp and silently dart their eyes at each other, waiting for something else to happen. When they got back from acting as ministers of Jesus Christ, they gathered together with Jesus and told him what they had done. In other words, those who were sent out reported back to the Church leaders what they had done. This is what we see as well in the book of Acts. In fact, Mark 6 is sort of a mini book of Acts.
Step 6: People follow the disciples to the Master
There is a curious mistranslation in the King James in verse 33. It’s a very subtle change, hardly perceptible at all. It doesn’t radically change our theology, and yet I’m sorry to have missed it all these years. The New King James says: “But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him.” But where the King James (and NKJV) says Him, the Greek says them, meaning the disciples. (One reason I’ve missed it all these years is that the other Gospels portray it as if the people are coming because they are following Jesus Himself.)
I find this significant because the crowd seems to be coming, in fact running, because they recognize the disciples and are following them. Maybe my Greek is too rusty, and maybe I’m reading too much into this passage. But it seems as if the multitudes are coming because they have seen and heard what the disciples of Jesus Christ have done. The 5000 gather because they recognize the 12 apostles who have been sent out to do the work of Jesus Christ and who have now come back to Jesus. It even seems as if they are acting like fishers of men, acting like bait to bring the fish back to Jesus. And the fish that come to Jesus, as in the feeding of the 5000, are miraculously turned into many more.
Isn’t this the way things work today, and ever since the Book of Acts? People are supposed to flock to the disciples of Jesus Christ, who then lead these people to Jesus. In other words, people see and meet Jesus through us, His disciples.
Step 7: The disciples rest so they may minister again
Finally, after the disciples have given themselves for the love of God and neighbor, giving up even sleep and food, they have earned a Sabbath rest. After the 6 steps of labor, the disciples find rest. Jesus knows how hungry and tired they are because He has been through the same thing Himself first. While He offers them a quiet, secluded place to rest their tired bodies, He also offers two kinds of spiritual refreshment to them as well.
First, they find rest in the presence of the Master and in the presence of each other. After laboring diligently in the fields and being in the world, among those who are not yet disciples, it is good for them to find rest in each other’s presence. Like the disciples in the Book of Acts and like St. Paul in his labors, we are to find our rest in Jesus Christ and also in His saints. As we share our lives and ministries, this is exactly what God offers to us.
Jesus also shows us that we should seek rest in prayer. After He has preached for three days, and after He has sent the multitudes away filled with good things, Jesus goes up to a mountain to pray (verse 46). Like the disciples, He needs a time of rest in God the Father and a time of spiritual strengthening. So He finds a quiet place and prays.
After God has refreshed us, we are strengthened to get up and minister again as disciples of Jesus Christ.
These, then, are 7 steps in the life of the disciples of Jesus Christ. They serve as a good reminder to us of the lives that the Master wishes for us to live.
Prayer: Master, thank You for calling me as Your disciple, for Your grace that has given me a desire to serve You in faith, and for entrusting to me Your heavenly ministry. Give me the strength and wisdom to know and to do Your holy will, giving my life for You and for others. Remind me to share Your ministry with others, gather together other disciples through me, and let me find my rest in You. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to meditate on the 7 steps in the lives of a disciple of Jesus Christ. (There is so much here for further meditation, that nothing else is offered today.)
Feeding of the 5000 – U.S. Public Domain