Successful ministry involves meeting people's needs in the power of God.
Disciples commissioned by the divinely powerful Jesus are themselves divinely empowered by him to meet any need.
“You yourselves give them to eat!”
The crowds gathered are like “sheep not having a shepherd” (6:34), a proverbial metaphor in the OT, used of Israel in a leadership vacuum (Num 27:17; 1 Kgs 22:17; Ezek 34:5–6). This sets the stage for the leadership role disciples are directed by Jesus to play. But they have apparently given no thought to providing for the crowd as their recommendation to Jesus reveals (Mark 6:36)—they want the crowd dismissed to go buy food for themselves.
Jesus counters with an emphatic “you yourselves” (6:37)—it was up to the disciples to provide for the people’s need. They, however, are unwilling to accept that responsibility and make a sarcastic response in return: 200 denarii was, after all, more than half a year’s wages. But the intent of Jesus’ exhortation is clear: successful ministry (leading others) involves meeting people’s needs in the power of God. Instead, the disciples look like helpless and cynical disbelievers.
The verb “set before” (6:41) is often used to denote the hospitable provision of food to guests by a householder. Thus, while the disciples were all for dismissing the crowd right away, Jesus was welcoming “dinner guests” as he “set before” them a table overflowing. That is the attitude the disciples ought to have had, and the deputized power they ought to have exercised.
As Jesus performs the feeding miracle, it is the disciples’ food that is the foundation for this miracle—and they must provide for the shepherdless people in the power of God (6:41).
Not only has Jesus demonstrated “how the impossible can be made possible,” he has also directed disciples to perform the impossible with what impossibly little they have! They are learning to lead as Jesus’ apprentices.
And then there follows another test for the disciples …
Jesus virtually forced (“compelled,” 6:45) the disciples to undertake this journey, and that by themselves. This was a purposeful sending of those he had called; they were being authorized to demonstrate God’s authority over the powers of chaos in that watery domain that threatened to sink their boat.
The verb “passing by” (6:48) is also found in Exod 33:22; 34:6; and in 1 Kgs 19:11, where Yahweh shows himself to Moses and to Elijah, respectively, when both were in a crisis—God performing a “passing by.” In other words, Jesus’ “passing by” is a divine act of reassuring self-disclosure that meets his people at their point of greatest desperation.
Unfortunately, all this is completely lost on the disciples—their reaction is sheer terror, the opposite of what was intended (6:50). In light of all that the disciples had already heard and seen of Jesus, it is astonishing that the disciples fail to discern who Jesus really was—the divine one with power; instead, they think he is a phantasm, a ghost (6:49).
Mark 6:53–56 forms an ironic summary for the chapter: whereas the hard-hearted disciples (6:52) failed to recognize Jesus’ person and power, the crowd is stated to have recognized him “immediately” (6:54). And their response is vigorous and enthusiastic: they run, they carry the afflicted here and there to wherever Jesus is, seeking at least a peripheral touch from this powerful one whom the disciples, who had been with him for so long, had failed even to recognize!
Thus the disciple, we are taught, is one who recognizes his or her own inadequacy and, acknowledges the total adequacy of God and his power alone, for the undertaking of ministry.
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