In the book of Mark, we read about Jesus using the little available bread to feed four thousand men in chapter 8 and five thousand in 6. Besides resurrection, this miracle appears in all the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. In total, these miracles are mentioned six times in the Gospels whereby they all draw attention to the miracle of the 5,000 whereas Mark and Mathew also site the miracle of the 4,000. One therefore wonders why Mark, for instance mentioned both miracles.
The first reason may be that the miracle of the 5,000 happened in Jewish territory whereas that of the 4,000 happened in Gentile territory-Decapolis (Mark 7:31). In this we see the God clearly using him to pass on the message to us that the Gospel is for all- both Jews and Gentiles.
Secondly, Mark presents a uniqueness of style in his repetitiveness which is seen in the duality of his message. In this he brings our attention to the Disciple’s need to have a message repeated to them before they can understand its full implication; he presents them as slow learners. The Gospel was meant for us Christians and the assumption can therefore be that we are the slow learners who need to be told these messages over and over again before we can understand them.
In Mark 6:45-56 Jesus crosses the lake in much the same way that He does in Mark 8:10. In Mark 7:1-23 as in 8:11-13 we see Him reasoning with the Pharisees who were always criticizing what He was doing. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman who impressed the Lord with her persistence brings out the analogy of bread as mentioned in 7:24-30 as does the narration of the yeast of the Pharisees in 8:14-23. In Mark 7:37, the people confess Jesus greatness, “He has done everything well”, they say. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”. We also see Mark making a similar mention of Peter confessing what has been revealed to Him, ‘You are the Christ’.
Jesus points out at the Disciples’ ignorance in Mark 7:18,’ Are you so dull?” He asks. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean?’ In 8:17 an almost similar conversation occurs, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?’ This presentation of the disciple’s dullness is not an insult to them because it really is spiritual. It is interesting to note that Jesus performs the miracle of healing the deaf and mute man just before He feeds the 4,000-as if to symbolically use this later on to drive in a point about the disciples’ own blindness and deafness-that they too needed spiritual healing because although they had eyes and ears, they could not see nor hear what was going on around them.
As Christians we too tend to hear from the Lord but unfortunately fail to obey what He wants of us until we can hear more times from Him about the same issue. Luckily, God is patient and spends time in teaching us again and again. This would then explain why the feeding of first the 5,000 then the 4,000 is recorded 6 times in the Gospels.
Thirdly, the Lord used Mark in a special way, unlike the rest of the Gospel writers, to record the events similarly for emphasis. In chapter 8:3-3 we see that Christ’s miraculous feeding of the 4,000 men was prompted by His compassion for them,’ I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way because some of them have come a long distance’. This same compassion is expressed in the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter 6:14, ‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things’. His compassion was not only for their physical but for their spiritual condition as well.
Mark in 6:37 records how Christ asks the disciples to feed the 5,000-‘you give them something to eat’. In 8:4 we also see how they wonder where they would get enough to feed the 4,000. But in this latter chapter unlike before, they were prepared and had 7 loaves which they presented to the Master: Jesus was questioning the adequacy of their resources and after He gave thanks to the Father, He multiplied the bread. The people ate, were satisfied and many basketfuls of broken pieces were picked up by the disciples.
From all the above occurrences, we learn several lessons; firstly that Jesus came for all- the Jews and the Gentiles, the rich and the poor, the saved and the unsaved. Whoever we are, we all have access to Him. He causes the rain to fall on both the righteous and the ungodly. But we must first have a relationship with Him in salvation for Him to draw nearer to us. He knows where we are, where we are coming from and where we are going, what ails us, what depresses us and therefore has compassion for us. He cares for our physical as well as our spiritual needs. He knows the number of hairs on each and every one of our heads and even cares more for it than we do.
Jesus showed compassion for the crowds and as Christians we too need to be on the look out for people who need our compassion. They are with and around us yet we do not see them. Some of them laugh with us but we fail to see their pain. Some need to be told about the love of Christ for them but we are too selfish or too caught up in our Christianity that we forget about them. We condemn them to the fires of hell as we fail to share the Gospel of Christ with them. Yet we must be kind and not put people into so much grilling that they feel condemned and we fail to help them know Christ. Our neighbors need Jesus, yet, some of them do not even know that they need Him. Jesus was able to discern that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. Look around you and identify the needs of those around you. Be proactive, act!
Secondly, in spiritual matters as in all others, we cannot do anything apart from Christ. Without Him, we cannot even meet the spiritual needs of those around us. Jesus asked the disciples how many loaves of bread they had, the seven they had were enough for His multiplication. God begins with what we have which we give back to Him to multiply so that we can share it with many others. God works through people, He needs us in order for Him to bless us as He reaches out and blesses others through us. Jesus would have commanded bread to grow as was the case when the children of Israel were in the wilderness. But God works differently every time and we see Christ, who is God becoming man, taking the bread from the disciples, multiplying it and giving it back to them for distribution. He could have ordered the birds to feed the people as they did Elijah, but this time round He asked for what the disciples had so that He could use it to produce more.
God has chosen you to distribute His blessings on you to other people. Whatever little talent you think you have, give it back to Him for multiplication. He multiplies and we distribute. In Mathew 8:3 he asked, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ We all have unique talents that have been fitted in us by the Almighty. We all have some loaves-whether one or two loaves worth of talent. Whatever little we have, we should let Him multiply this for us so that we may give it back to His Kingdom. When we dry out, we must go back to Him for replenishing as the disciples must have done again and again until the entire crowd was fed. God works through people and whatever little you have is all He needs; it will suffice. Take it to Him.
Lastly, that little that you think you have will infact exceed the demands of the God’s people. In the feeding of the 5,000 Mark 6:42-43 records, ‘They all ate and were satisfied and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish’. A similar occurrence is observed in the feeding of the 4,000 in Mark 8:8, ‘The people ate and were satisfied. Afterwards the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over’. As long as the disciples went back to Jesus for more, He gave it to them. The supply of food met and exceeded the demand on the ground. Similarly, it is not about the resources you have, God will use whatever is available from you to give more back to you for as long as you initially surrender it all to Him. And when you share what He gives back to you, you will infact, be standing up for your neighbor who does not have what you have.