Summary: If you’re in ministry you don’t always have the luxury of being able to do just what you want. Sometimes you have to give up your own desires in order to serve God in some way
The Romance of Ministry
It wasn’t fair. If it were you or me we’d be feeling so frustrated. The disciples were on a high. They’d just got back from a mission trip. They’d been preaching the gospel, casting out demons and healing people, just like Jesus. But now there were people everywhere and they hadn’t had a chance to talk to Jesus about it. What they needed was some time to themselves to process what they’d just experienced. So Jesus suggests they get away by themselves; go on retreat. They’re fishermen so it seems easy. They can just hop in boat and get away from the madding crowd.
But it’s not to be. Their plans are foiled. It’s like a film star trying to avoid the paparazzi. People see them going and hurry after them.
The Reality of Ministry
And so the disciples discover the reality of ministry. If you’re in ministry (and every one of us is, in case you didn’t realise it!) you don’t always have the luxury of being able to do just what you want. Sometimes, perhaps even often, you have to give up your own desires in order to serve God in some way. Sometimes you have to modify those plans you’ve made so carefully, because God throws another possibility into the mix; something you’ve never thought of; something totally unexpected even.
As we’ll see in a moment Jesus is the model of ministry and so he leads the way. We’re told as he saw a great crowd he had compassion for them. So he began to teach them many things.
The disciples no doubt saw this huge crowd as a distraction, an annoyance. But Jesus sees them as an opportunity. Here are a great flock of people, like sheep without a shepherd.
That of course is an Old Testament allusion isn’t it? Ezekiel describes the people of Israel as being like a flock who’ve been abandoned by their shepherds, left to wander over the mountains where they became food for wild animals. But now Jesus has come as the Good Shepherd, promised by God; come to seek out his sheep and look after them (Ezek 34:1-16). And so his heart goes out to them.
The reality of ministry is that God will regularly put opportunity for ministry in your way. It may not always be convenient but God sends people and opportunities our way because he wants us to serve him through them. And that’s what the disciples are learning as these events unfold.
The Discipline of Ministry
Of course, being a disciple isn’t always the easiest of jobs. Being a disciple involves learning new things, being pushed out of your comfort zone, being tested to see what you’ve learnt so far. And that’s what happens here. The disciples are getting a bit tired as the day goes on, so they come to Jesus and suggest that he sends the people away to get something to eat. Of course the subtext is this: “then we can do the same thing - in peace and quiet!”
But Jesus decides this is a great opportunity to test them - and to teach them something important. So he says “You give them something to eat.” Sounds simple doesn’t it? They’ve just come back from preaching the gospel, healing the sick and driving out demons so what’s hard about feeding a few people? But what do they say? “Us?! How are we going to find enough food for this huge crowd?” “We have a bit of money in the kitty but not enough to buy food for all these people. You’re talking about 8 month’s wages here!”
The times of testing in our ministry can sometimes be too much for us and we’re tempted to give up altogether. We say it’s all too hard. Let someone else do it if they can. I’m just not up to it!
Well, that’s the sort of response we find here from the disciples. We can’t possibly do it!
Modelling of Ministry
So Jesus shows them how it can be done. He asks them what food they have, and they manage to find a couple of fish and five loaves of bread. John tells us they got it from a boy in the crowd. Then he gets everyone to sit down in manageable groups, he prays over the food, then proceeds to break it into pieces and keeps doing so until everyone is full.
Now don’t be misled by those who want to deny that this is a miracle - that one boy’s offer of his lunch led to everyone else sharing what they had. The way Mark describes this, with little details like the way they were organised into groups so they could distribute the food, the sharpness of the disciples’ response to Jesus in v37, all indicate that this is an eyewitness report of a miraculous event. Jesus has done something unbelievable. Here’s another demonstration of Jesus deity. Jesus is doing what God did in the exodus, providing food for his people from virtually nothing. If we had any doubt that he’s able to provide for our daily needs this should remove it.