March 1, 2018
The franchisees, the 12, report back to the franchisor, Jesus, about all that they had done and taught. Did you notice that they are called ‘apostles’ here for the first time? He invites them to come away somewhere isolated. It’s a deserted place, to rest and restore
But the rock star can’t duck the paparazzi that easily, and a mob on foot gets to the next docking ahead of them, so a crowd is waiting his arrival. Do you have a sense of déjà vu? How many times in fact did something like this occur, and what is the point of retelling this moment of the few facing the many?
Jesus feels compassion, for sheep without a shepherd, and he teaches them. Talk about ‘the omniscient narrator’, purporting to know what Jesus felt! The shepherd phrase echoes the prophets, and again we hear that Jesus taught, but nothing of what he said.
The disciples, the advance men and roadies and security staff, want him to disperse the crowd to go to towns and buy food (though they themselves have just come back from empty handed franchise work, remember). Various translations will remind you that half a year’s wages are at stake, to pay for this ‘shore lunch’ from petty cash.
Jesus makes it his disciples’ problem. You give them something from nothing. Five loaves and two fish is the initial inventory, since they had been commanded to travel light and trust. Have you ever led a church with this fundamental challenge? Me too.
Sit the crowds on the green grass – they organize themselves in fifties and hundreds – all 5000 of them. Feed them – and you’ll end up with 12 baskets of left-overs. We can compare the more effective role of the disciples in the other gospels.
Our 20th century religious wars were fought between modernists and fundamentalists. We liberals looked for plausible explanations of how the crowd were shamed by the sacrificial generosity of the disciples into surrender and share their own food, which they had all along. Those fundamentalists simply accepted a divine miracle. Which kind of God is yours: the one who leaves it all up to us, or the one who does it all for us?
What’s the disciples’ job, and what keeps them from doing it? What’s our job, and what keeps us from doing it? As Tony Robinson puts it ‘What business are you in – and how’s business?’ Worlds collide.
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,
‘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.