A reflection on Mark 6:30-44 & Acts 2:42-47 for Sunday, October 24, 2021 at Mosaic Baptist Church.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
Mark 6:30-44 (NRSVA)
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (NRSVA)
Our reading today from the Gospel of Mark raises questions for me about the necessity of this miracle. Was it really essential? Is it an act of hospitality rather than one of necessity?
In Mark’s account of the feeding of the 5,000, we have no indication that there was a concern of safety or an urgent need. Here it is an event initiated by disciples who expected to arrive in this deserted place for rest. It has turned out quite differently. I wonder: Are they motivated to get rid of this crowd?
Perhaps. Jesus, however, seems to be motivated to keep them here longer. His impossible request, “You give them something to eat”, seems outrageously generous – and insanely costly. Their presentation of five loaves and two fish seems to be an act proving their point. This is all we have found – and it is far from enough!
Yet Jesus prays, blesses, and breaks – and the very hands of the disciples a miracle unfolds. There is enough and more.
It is a strange miracle that is primarily an act of welcome and community. An un-requested moment of hospitality in a deserted place. A miracle not of survival, but of satisfaction. It creates more of a party atmosphere than one of eliminating starvation. Mark tells us they ‘…all ate and were filled’. An abundance of food seems to have been miraculously provided – and large portions left uneaten.
This is a story that speaks of abundance, plenty and generosity. It brings up images of a celebration. It is a communal festival or party – and it tells us something – like all Jesus’ actions – about the Kingdom Jesus is inviting us to embrace.
A kingdom of generosity, community and celebration.
In scripture, food is much more than a means to keep us alive. To be sure, it is this – but it is also far more. Food is a social cue of welcome and relationship. From the abundance provided in the garden of Eden, through Abram’s welcome of the three strangers, to Jesus supping with tax-collectors and sinners – in all these we see a God of hospitality and casual conversation.
A God wanting to sit with people around relationship fostering food.
Is it any wonder the table became a central symbol in the early church? In Luke’s summary of the early church we see, over just a few sentences, two mentions of the act of ‘breaking bread’. This, like the feeding of the 5,000, is not primarily an act of survival. Rather it produces ‘glad’, ‘generous’ and ‘praising’ hearts.
It is a celebration!
And that, I suggest, is our primary response to the Kingdom of God among us.
How do you view and experience food? It it primarily a means of survival or abundance? What factors go into your approach to food?
If an idol is a good gift of God that is out of place, what happens when food is worshipped rather than the God who gives it? What are the excesses of this particular gift?
When have you experienced food, hospitality and conversation at its best? Who were you with? Where were you? What made it memorable?