The story before us today from Mark chapter 6, is a wonderful and exciting tale. It is a favorite miracle story for many people and one in which we find much comfort and encouragement for living lives of faithfulness. Of course, we go into this story already knowing the big punchline at the end. I mean, our Bibles usually have a heading which tells us exactly what is going to happen before we even begin. We are sort of robbed of the dramatic unfolding of events. But imagine hearing this for the very first time. You read about our Lord and His discussion with the disciples and how to feed this group of people that have gathered around to hear His words and you go through the whole ordeal, paying attention to all the movements of the actors involved and then after the leftovers have all been picked up, you get blindsided with the shocking revelation. This was not a small gathering of people, or even a fairly large fellowship of followers who all ate and were satisfied. No, this was over 5000 people. This was a massive, super abundant feeding that ought to take our breath away.
So, we know where we are going, but let us unpack a bit how it is we got here. Our story begins with the disciples having just returned from their first missionary endeavor. They had been sent out by Jesus, 2 by 2, to do His work. They carried with them the promises and authority of Christ Himself. They cast out demons and healed the sick all in the name of our Lord. They returned with great joy and were excited to tell Him everything they had taught and all the things they had done. Jesus invites them to go away with Him for some rest, for some time to decompress and talk and evaluate what happened to them. They get in their boats and head off toward a more desolate part of the shoreline. In the meantime, the people see where they are going and run ahead of them to greet them where they land. Our Lord sees the growing crowd and the clamoring to hear what He teaches and the longing for healing and hope and He has compassion on them. He says they are like sheep without a shepherd: No one to care for them, no one the protect them, no one to lead them to the good green pastures.
As it gets late the disciples come up to our Lord and ask Him to send away the crowd. They never acquired the connection with the rest of what our Lord spoke about. Now they see another problem looming on the horizon. There are in a desolate place and the crowd has grown. The responsible thing to do would be to disperse the crowd so they could take care of what they needed as far as dinner went. They say, “Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Our Lord’s response is a bit startling, to say the least. He looks at the crowd, and then looks back at His disciples, looks back out at the crowd and simply says, “You give them something to eat.” No need to send them away, you feed them. Now, of course, this seems simply ridiculous to the disciples. What are they made of money? You would easily need over 200 denarii to just give them all a bite a bread. But our Lord does not seem to be playing around. He expects the disciples to feed these wandering sheep.
Now, for us today, I think we have grown somewhat numb to our Lord asking the impossible. We know, for instance, we are supposed to live lives marked by repentance and good works, lives which distinguish Christians from non-Christians by their love and compassion. But when you see the overwhelming sin lurking within your heart and mind, when you are faced with your own failures even when you really try to walk the straight and narrow path, why, we tend to throw our hands in the air and say, “Why bother? He demands too much, expects too much. I am simply not capable of doing what Jesus asks.”
Our Lord has laid a charge upon all His disciples. It is a charge to speak of the hope you have, a commissioning to love and forgive your neighbor, your family members, your coworkers, and your friends. He has not called you His brothers and sisters so you can live monastic lives of seclusion, hidden away from the world. No, you are sent out into it to do as He would do. You are called to have compassion on a world full of lost sheep, sheep who wander around aimlessly without direction, sheep who are hungry for real lasting food, food that does not just satisfy for a day but for all eternity. Jesus turns you toward those you encounter as you carry out your various vocations and says to you, “Go ahead, feed them, feed the sheep.”
I know this may seem impossible. It seems like He is simply asking too much. I mean, you look within yourself, you see the brokenness, the corruption, the hesitation and doubts and you wonder, “Who am I to do such a thing? Who am I to feed anyone? I need to be fed myself. I feel like I am the one who is lost.” I get it. I know what that is like. I mean, every Sunday I kneel down and pray before I preach that I might not screw this up, that God might see fit to use this broken and hurting vessel one more time to attempt to feed the sheep. Because to be honest, the task is too great, the charge too overwhelming. Our Lord asks the impossible.
Jesus has the disciples see what it is they do have. They bring to Him five leaves of bread and a couple of fish. He then has these hungry and longing sheep sit down on the green grass. Then He does something which sounds so familiar, something we have heard Him do over and over again. In fact, it is the central piece of our fellowship. With this meager meal in His hands, He blesses it, breaks it, and gives it out. He hands it to His disciples, and they hand it out to all those waiting to be fed. They begin to feed them. They begin to do exactly what He calls them to do. Through the intersession of our Lord, the impossible becomes possible. What He demands is fulfilled; over 5000 people are fed from 5 loaves and 2 fish. In fact, not only are they fed but there are leftovers. Everyone is satisfied and there are 12 basket of pieces leftover.
We may very well look at the task our Lord has called us to do and see it as impossible. We may look first at our neighbor who needs the words of life, the words of forgiveness and compassion and then we look in the mirror and see our own failures and faults. We want to throw-up our hands in despair. But your Lord says bring what you have, and you bring Him your life of sin, you bring Him your meager attempts to be faithful, you bring Him your doubts and hesitations. In return, He takes bread and blesses it. He breaks it and gives it to you and says, “Take eat this is My body given for you.” Take eat, the body broken for your sins, the body sacrificed for your failures and doubts. Take and eat for this is forgiveness, this is hope, this is the foretaste of the feast to come. Eat and be satisfied for you are loved and forgiven all of your sins.
With His forgiveness now claiming you, with His promise ringing in your ears, He turns you toward your neighbor. He turns you toward one another, toward the lost and wandering sheep of this age. He turns you out into this world and says, “Go ahead, go ahead, and feed them.” It is not a matter of what all you possess or how much you have, it is a matter of handing-on what He has provided. Because you are loved, now you can love. Because you are forgiven, now you can forgive. And in the meantime, we marvel how the sheep are not left hungry, His gifts continue to be given, and His love continues to pour out. Our Lord has a habit of making easy His work of the impossible.