Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
It’s easy to view Mark 8:1-9 from the perspective of the miraculous feeding of the multitude. About four thousand people (v. 9), all fed to the point of satisfaction, when before they ate there was concern that they wouldn’t make it back home before fainting from lack of food, and all of it happening starting with seven loaves and a few fish. Certainly, this is a powerful miracle.
However, I’d like us to look at the passage from a slightly different perspective. What were the people doing? Jesus had been going here and there, healing and teaching. We don’t really have information about the occasion or the overall context of this gathering. But it’s significant that the crowd, apparently this crowd, had been gathered for three days. We can only assume they were hearing Jesus’ teaching and that those who were sick were coming to him for healing.
Would this take a while? No doubt. I have had instances of working with a crowd of people, but the biggest one I have ever worked with in this way, praying for individuals, hearing problems and bringing biblical teaching to them in a public space, and trying to show care outside of a formal setting was much smaller, perhaps four hundred people, not four thousand. This is an enormous crowd of people, all with different needs. And the amazing thing is that they stick around. It’s entirely different from having a Bible study or conference in which there are set presentations and people come and go.
It probably isn’t late in the day. You don’t send a crowd of pedestrians away to go home when the day is already over. You send them home in the middle of the afternoon. But they can’t go home without eating something. They will pass out on the way. This indicates to us that they may have had some food on the first day, and maybe a little on the second day, but it is gone. They didn’t plan, maybe couldn’t plan, to be with Jesus as long as they were. If Jesus were to extend the gathering, it would result in hunger again, as well as loss of ability to care for any family at home. The crowd needs to eat and be sent away.
What’s amazing here is that the crowd stayed with Jesus as long as they did! Their food ran out, they had been hearing him, receiving healing, receiving strength. Jesus was caring for people. But when you’re hungry and thirsty you start thinking about going home. The second day you will almost certainly decide to go home. But this is a third day.
Jesus is giving the people words of life. They are eager to receive those words. They need to hear that God’s kingdom is with them, that God’s merciful reign is present in Jesus, and that he is able to care for them all the days of their life, into eternity.
In these last days, God has provided for his people. We can hear God’s Word over and over again through books, church services, studies in person and even online. We can receive the teaching of Jesus. But are we willing to stay with him? What if it were a whole day? Two? Into a third day?
Jesus has the words of life. He is willing to provide them for us. He can provide for all our physical needs as well, but what he’s really there to do is to bring us reconciliation with God, forgiveness, life, and salvation. May we, like this crowd in Mark 8, be ready to hear from our Lord.
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