Mark 6.30–56 tells the stories of two miracles. In the first (vv. 30–44), Jesus feeds a large crowd with fives loaves and two fish. In the second (vv. 45–56), he walks on water. Both stories tell us something important about Jesus, as well as something troubling about ourselves.
The first story tells us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd who cares about and provides for his sheep, both spiritually and physically. It begins with Jesus inviting his apostles, exhausted from their first extended evangelistic campaign, to take a few days off. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” This invitation is a profound comment on Jesus’ leadership style. He expects and empowers us to do great things, but he also realizes the limits of our abilities and encourages us to create moments for self-care.
The apostles’ rest did not last long, however, for the crowds discovered their quiet place. We have seen Jesus’ heart for his apostles, now we see his heart for the masses: “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” This is a profound comment about Jesus’ priorities as a leader. He prioritizes the crowd’s spiritual needs over their physical needs. Why? Because, as he told the devil, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4.4).
By the same token, however, he does not neglect the crowd’s physical needs. When the disciples ask him to send the crowd away so that they can purchase food in the surrounding villages, Jesus says to them: “You give them something to eat.” All they can rustle up are fives loaves and two fish, hardly enough food for a multitude. But when Jesus blesses and distributes the food, the disciples discover, to their amazement, that there is more than enough for all. Smallness of faith had hampered the ability of the apostles to minister to the crowd.
After feeding the crowd, Jesus sends the apostles ahead of him to Bethsaida, which requires that they set sail on the Sea of Galilee. A storm arises, and Jesus—who is on a mountain overlooking the lake—sees “the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” So, he walks across the lake to them. When they see him coming toward them, they think he is a ghost and become frightened. So Jesus responds, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbs into the boat, and the wind dies down. Mark offers this commentary on the apostles’ response: “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
Jesus is a powerful person. That is the important lesson we learn from these stories. The troubling lesson is that we all too often have small faith and hard hearts. So, let us pray and strive for a large-minded, soft-hearted faith!