There is something eminently sensible about the disciple’s suggestion. They approach their master to let him know that the time is late and – if he does his maths – he will see that the people need the remainder of the day’s light to arrange their food and accommodation. It is just a matter of knowing their basic needs and when the sun will set.
It is a small word and here carries serious significance. It tells of the disciple’s overlooking God’s provision – even in this deserted place. There is here both food and faith.
His students protest. They show all they have – five loaves and two fish. I imagine them also pointing to the thousands gathered. Does he really expect us to go, purchase, and carry enough for all these?
But even though they see no alternative these followers obediently divide the crowd into smaller groups and encourage them to sit. It is their little act of faith.
Of course, they are richly rewarded. The disciples distribute the miracle by their own hands. A short while later they collect – of all things – left-overs. Jesus is determined that they see this wonder up close.
And, indeed, it must have made them wonder. Mark follows this abundant feeding with a conversation about Jesus’ identity. Many, it would seem have developed an opinion. The guesses hover around other miracle workers – recognised prophets both ancient and modern. Clearly, no one is suggesting is Jesus is normal.
Least of all Peter: You are ‘The Messiah of God’. There is no bigger accolade. This elevates Jesus far above all the previously suggested names. Such a discovery should be shouted from the rooftops.
But Jesus is insisting on a cone of silence.
After all, they know nothing of what ‘The Messiah’ implies. They have correctly identify Jesus. Only now will he begin to guide them through the implications: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Perhaps the guesses at a prophetic identity were closer, more literal, than anyone imagined.
But this is more than a setting out of Jesus’ personal agenda. After pointing to his coming suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus then points to theirs. This is the first mention of a ‘cross’ – but it does not exclusively point to the cross Jesus will carry.
It points to ‘their cross’.
I do not want to overstate the case – after all this is a cross taken up in imitation of Jesus. I am not denying the significance of the cross of Christ.
But the focus has shifted quickly from Jesus’ suffering to the disciple’s suffering.
Clearly following Jesus has its dangers. This Jesus is clearly not ‘safe’. As C.S Lewis’ beavers remind us, Aslan is never accurately described as ‘safe’. He is certainly ‘good’ but he is not ‘safe’.
Jesus refers to two possible responses to the invitation to follow the Messiah. In both cases it would seem, life is ‘lost’. But only for the latter does this loss becomes a path to salvation: ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it’.
Given the events that will unfold, this could easily be being said of Jesus.
But it is not. It is being said of all who would consider following ‘The Messiah’.