Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits…. They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them…. The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” (Mark 6:7, 12-13, 30)

There is only so much one Messiah can do.

Doesn’t matter how hard he works, how long his days. Doesn’t matter how many he heals or how much he teaches. There are thousands of them and only one of him. They are everywhere, he is here … limited by the flesh to place and time … caught in incarnation.

The mission of Jesus is bigger than Jesus himself. It will last longer and reach wider than he can ever accomplish personally, on his own. If the mission is to survive him, to transcend him, it must be given to others, taken up by others, carried on by others.

He’s already hand-picked his partners in future ministry. Twelve men he calls “apostles.” A dozen disciples to whom he gives authority to preach and cast out demons. His mission will be entrusted to them. They will march on after he is gone.

For now, it is time to send them out on a trial-run. An evangelistic experiment. A confidence-boosting, in-the-trenches, take-it-to-the-people rehearsal for ministry yet to come.

He calls them to himself. He reaffirms their authority to preach and heal. He sends them out two-by-two … like male-and-female climbing into the ark, bearing on their fragile shoulders the hope of the world. Twelve “mini-Jesus’s” let loose in the earth.

They go forth preaching repentence … driving out demons … healing the sick.

And when the Twelve return to Jesus, what stories they tell! What crowds they have preached to! What miracles they have performed!

Jesus must have been so proud.

Feeding the 5000

They went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him…. “Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:32-37)

They climbed in a boat to find a quiet place to rest. But the crowds had other ideas. They saw Jesus trying to sneak away! They saw him attempting to escape their incessant demands! They ran round the edge of the lake, angling for the shore where the boat was headed.

By the time Jesus and the Twelve disembarked, the crowds were already gathering. “Like sheep without a shepherd,” Jesus muttered to himself. Tired as he was, looking forward as he might have been to quiet time with his disciples, Jesus (the Teacher) took a deep breath and began speacking to the crowds about many things.

Compassionate Jesus might have been. Brief he was not.

All day he taught the crowds. Through the glare of noon and the heat of the day, into evening shadows. Children were falling asleep. Stomachs were growling.

Finally, the disciples interrupted. They complained, in bursts of weariness, “This is a remote place. We’ve been here all day. Now it is getting dark. Send them away. They can buy food elsewhere.” The Twelve were in the habit of stating the obvious. You would think, by this time, they might have learned that Jesus was rarely constrained by the apparent.

“You give them something to eat,” Jesus told them—his “obvious” being very different from theirs. “You feed them. No need to send them away hungry.” In Jesus’ mind, a hungry crowd represented little challenge to disciples who had just performed exorcisms and healings!

The Twelve did not see it that way. They were appalled by the suggestion, driven by constrained parameters to think only of obvious solutions.

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37)

“Half a year’s work squandered on one meal? If we had the money, where would we find the bread? How would we carry it all? How long would it take to fetch it back here?” The questions multiplied. The objections piled high. The disciples’ “obvious” made Jesus and his solution seem foolish.

You can almost hear Jesus sigh! The restraint he exercised in not rolling his eyes and shaking his head nearly equaled in miraculous power the miracle he was about to perform.

They had seen him heal the sick and cast out demons. They’d seen him calm a storm and raise the dead. They had seen his power triumph over the forces of nature and of evil.

Not only had they seen him do these things. They had done these things themselves! Jesus had given them power over disease and demons!

Yet they were stumped by a little bread and water! The numbers of the crowd overwhelmed their elementary spiritual math. The disciples could not envision a miraculous solution to a mundane problem. They stood stupefied before Jesus, gaping out their incomprehension with open mouths and nervous gestures.

“What do we have on hand?” he finally asked (one more hint of things to come the Twelve did not catch).

“Five loaves and two fish,” they answered eventually. (They had to go count.)

“That will be sufficient,” Jesus allowed and had the great multitude of people sat down in groups “on the green grass.”

No drum rolls. No spot lights. No announcers whipping the crowds into a frenzy. A quiet prayer. A breaking of bread. Tearing fish into frangments and handing them on to the Twelve with a nod towards the seated, expectant people.

Praying. Breaking. Nodding. Again and again. Over and over. Not for the few seconds five loaves and two fish would normally require to portion and distribute … minute after minute … hour after hour. (Breaking one loaf/fish per second would entail almost three hours for a crowd of 5000!) Loaf replacing loaf. Fish leaping to hand, fully baked and ready to eat. The crowds served in their dozens, then hundreds, then thousands. Eager mouths gulping welcome food. Empty stomachs singing at the surfeit of supply. Teeth gnawing. Eyes flashing. Hands wiping lips.

Then … crusts thrown to the ground with the scorn of excess. Fish fins and tails discarded in favor of the meat. A slowing of the frienzied feast. People sitting back in the grass groaning. People, even at the edges of the crowd, waving away more heaping helpings.

“Now, go collect the leftovers,” Jesus instructed his disciples. From a start of five loaves and two fish, baskets of food fragments the crowd was too sated to swallow. Twelve baskets full they gathered! A brimming basket for each disciple—a mute and strangely personal testimonial that lack of bread posed no problem when Jesus was present.

You might explain how someone at the periphery of the crowd could have missed the point … someone who did not see what was happening or hear the dialogue between Jesus and his chosen ones.

But the disciples had front-row seats. They saw. They heard. They were intimate and immediate witnesses. They had no excuse for misunderstanding.

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