God’s Word for You
Mark 6:35-38 Five and two
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, January 29, 2023
35 By by now the hour was late, and his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the hour is late. 36 Send them away, to go off into the country around here and the villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread,” they said, “and give it to them to eat?” 38 Then he asked them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”
The lessons for the people were all about the kingdom of God; about faith (verse 34). The lesson for the apostles was the same, but it was taught with questions and opportunities and not with parables. The first opportunity came from the apostles themselves, but the Lord knew it was coming, and he let them bring it up:
1, Facts: It was late, and it was time to eat.
2, Assumption: Jesus and the apostles could not feed all these people.
3, Therefore: Send them away to glean (forage) or to buy food.
This was not a true syllogism because the second point (the minor premise) was false. Jesus was teaching them about faith in the Son of God, the Creator, and they were worried about a meal. Later during the Perean ministry (across the Jordan) Jesus would summarize this lesson: “With man this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
The Master turns the question back to his pupils: “You,” he said. “you feed them.” Not the surrounding countryside. Not the villages. Not the purses and pocketbooks of these hungry people who came leaderless and hurting to be healed and led. “You, you disciples, you give them something to eat.”
These men who had followed Jesus for a year now forgot an earlier lesson. It was near this very spot, just down there in the lake by the Capernaum harbor, that Jesus had told Peter to let out his nets, and they caught so many fish that the net started to tear apart (Luke 5:6). Couldn’t they have run down to the boats, prayed, and caught more than enough fish for the crowd? Or couldn’t they have remembered that God provided manna for his people in the wilderness, and prayed for bread to have fallen on the crowd like a heavy snow, feeding them with wafers that tasted like honey (Exodus 14:31)?
But the disciples didn’t think of decades of bread God gave to Moses and the nation in the desert, or net-ripping catches of fish Jesus himself had given to them. Instead they thought about what it would cost: two hundred denarii. The history of the denarius as a coin and a unit of money is complicated by inflation (debasement) during the five or so centuries when it was in general use. Its name survives today in the Spanish word for money, dinero. Originally meant to be worth about ten pounds of bronze, by this time it was worth about 16 ounces or one pound. Many translations prefer to give the approximate value at this time, which would have been about eight month’s wages for an unskilled worker. They estimated that two hundred such coins (perhaps what they had in their treasury) might feed the people.
The Master does not scold his disciples for loving the people. They were concerned about feeding these thousands. They were not guilty of unbelief. They were not guilty of failing to love their neighbor. They were serving God within the boundaries of the first and second tables of the Law (Mark 12:29-31). But he wanted to teach them more: He does not want us to suffer need. For when Christ rebuked the devil by saying “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ), he did not say, “Man does not live by bread at all,” but “by bread alone.” These people had come to him to be fed with the word of God, and they were content to stay with him as he kept preaching to them and healing them. But they had bodies; they had flesh that needed to be fed. Jesus’ heart went out to them about their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs.
Jesus did not point them to past miracles (years of manna, too many fish to haul in). Instead he pointed them to what was on hand. He asked them to go find out what they had for bread, meaning food of any kind. One of them found something (it was Andrew, John 6:8), a boy who had five small loaves of bread and two small fish. Was it even worth mentioning?
Is it important to point out that the loaves were barley loaves, about the size of our dinner rolls? Would it be important to say that the fish that this boy had were certainly not fresh, but would have been cooked and salted, dried, or pickled? It doesn’t amount to much no matter how it could be presented. The miracle is not affected by the smallness of what was multiplied.
In Second Kings, there is a series of miracles performed before the school of the prophets by the prophet Elisha. During a famine, he changed a stew that was deadly and putrid into something delightful and healthy with nothing but a handful of flour (2 Kings 4:38-41). And at about the same time (during the same famine), a man brought the prophet twenty barley loaves (dinner rolls) and some heads of new grain, raw and unroasted. When the prophet’s servant complained that there would never be enough for everyone (there were a hundred of them), Elisha said: “This is what the Lord says: They will eat and have some left over.” And that’s exactly what happened. The students and their teachers and the prophet all ate their fill, and some was even left over (2 Kings 4:42-44). This was what the Master wanted his disciples to remember and to trust: God knows our needs and he fills them according to his love for us. It is the way he takes care of us that sometimes acts as a barometer of our spiritual state: Does he test me to see whether I am content? Does he tell me to wait for him? Does he give me just what I ask for in my prayers? Or is it possible that sometimes (as he does here) he gives me far more than I imagined possible? “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). What James says is true: A righteous man cannot just say to his neighbor: “I wish you well” and do nothing about the man’s physical needs (James 2:16). But how much more isn’t this true of God, who desires the very best for us, which is eternal life. Won’t our loving and compassionate God also look to our physical needs as well? Trust in the Lord with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5).
Pastor Timothy Smith