MARK 8:1–10

I n those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way — and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

The Gospel of the Lord

REFLECTION

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O n first reading, it seems as though Gospel writer Mark had gotten a tiny bit muddled up. After all, just a little while earlier (see Mark 6:30–44) he’d written about Jesus feeding a crowd of five thousand and here was Jesus, again, feeding another large crowd in such a similar fashion that only the numbers seem different — in chapter six, it was a crowd of five thousand, fed with five loaves and two fish, with twelve basketfuls left over. Here, in chapter eight, it’s a crowd of four thousand, fed with seven loaves and a few small fish, with seven basketfuls left over. Even the method that Jesus follows to work these miracles is almost exactly the same, right from the question he asks his disciples at both times — “How many loaves do you have?” So is it the same story? We may think so, but, ahh there are differences, when you look for them. So let’s look — and see why Mark thought he needed to include both of these miracles in his story.

In the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, it is the disciples who go to Jesus when it gets dark. But here’s what they say to him “Send [the people] away so that they may go and buy something for themselves to eat”. And when he tells them, “You give them something to eat”, they respond with “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread?” You can sense the frustration in their voices. They’re poor men, so it’s like asking, “Do you expect us to buy a hundred thousand dollars worth of bread?” They’re incredulous at what he’s asking them to do because they had just come back from a tiring mission and tried to go to a deserted place to rest and eat, but even there, the crowd had followed them to listen to Jesus. They had been working non-stop to cater to the people and it was perfectly logical for them, as it sometimes is for us, to think — “Lord, you can see I’m tired, I’m hungry and I’ve already given so much of myself. If I have to give any more, what will become of me?” Have you had any of those moments?

But Jesus tells us what he told the disciples then — check your pockets, buddy. And because they did, Jesus gave them something very valuable that day — compassion. And he continues to teach them, by example, to exercise this compassion. All the miracles that follow are born out of Jesus’ compassion, for his disciples and for others — his walking on water when he sees them straining at the oars, healing the sick who touched even the fringe of his cloak, delivering the Gentile woman’s daughter from the unclean spirit and curing a deaf-mute man.

So when it’s time again to feed a large, hungry crowd, the disciples don’t ask Jesus to send them away. They’ve learnt their lesson — they understand, and probably feel, Jesus’ compassion. But while they’ve understood the why, they still haven’t figured out the how! Despite all the amazing miracles that they have recently witnessed, they’re still limited by the logistics, and ask Jesus “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” What they’re asking is “How can anyone feed these people?” But Jesus wasn’t just anyone — he was the One. All he needed was for them to reach into their pockets with compassion, and he would provide. And so, when we find that we somehow, miraculously, have the resources to help someone else even in the middle of our own desert, we should know that it was simply because we reached within ourselves with compassion — and Jesus took care of the rest.

We can all be miracle makers — all it takes is a little compassion, multiplied by Jesus.

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by Fionna Braganza