The Lesson of the Loaves

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. ca. 1545–50 Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) 

Last week we examined Mark’s message found in chapter 6. We entered the flow of Mark’s thoughts by recognizing that Mark strongly identifies hospitality (a mutual participation of giving and receiving) as both a determinant and requisite of gospel ministry. The lack of hospitality determined the limits of ministry in Jesus’ hometown (6:5) and Jesus’ instructions to the twelve disciples included a direct requisite (6:10) that they would rely on the reciprocity of hospitality for their own ministry.

A fun and important interpretive key is provided by Mark in this chapter, and it shows up repeatedly in the chapters ahead. Mark’s mantra of “take no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (6:8) must be kept in mind throughout our reading. The disciples were specifically instructed to not carry extra bread or money – to resist the scarcity of self-determinism and self-reliance, and to embrace the abundance of community.

With this emphasis in mind, we arrive to the story of the twelve baskets. As with so many stories in the bible, this story holds potential for significant misreading. A quick reading might result in an interpretation that looks like Jesus fed five thousand people by magically multiplying a few fish and bread. That interpretation requires the assertion into the story of supernatural magic (some would argue the demonstration of deity, but that has its own complications). It is important to note that there is NO actual mention of supernatural multiplication by Jesus in this story. (BTW, it seems that assertion into the story reveals much about our assumptions regarding the crowd of poor and sick persons.)

What IS mentioned is Jesus’ compassion for the crowd (6:34), Jesus’ organization of the community (6:39), and Jesus’ determination of what resources are available (6:38). And then there is this important detail…Jesus asks the disciples how much money and bread they had on them! (6:38)

This is the main plot of the story! Will the disciples of Jesus follow through on the instructions to depend on the hospitality of the community (take no bread or money with you), or will they continue to fall into the trap of scarcity and “pull yourself by your own bootstraps” kind of individualism?

Seeing this question as the main plot shapes our reading and understanding. The real miracle in this story is the miracle of community/hospitality. And the message in this story is the question regarding if the disciples are going to figure out what the kingdom life is about or not.

Because, come to find out, there are enough resources within the crowd when organized around hospitality…more than enough. For, from out of the crowd is where the abundance came from…they brought back twelve baskets.

I’d say the message is clear, and the image in our imaginations of each of the twelve disciples humbly walking back to Jesus a basket full of food is the aha learning moment. The resources of community have proven to be far more abundant than the private possessions of a few. Let that kingdom reality play out to its fullest potential!

If the applications of this gospel lesson can’t transform the follower of Jesus…what will? And maybe that’s Mark’s question too. For, in a just a few verses, Mark reminds the reader, “they failed to understand the lesson of the loaves.” (6:52)

Will we?


*These reflections on Mark are written as a recap summary on the weekly discipleship discussions of The Gathering Community. The Gathering Community is a group of seekers who are “relinquishing what has failed (which we will likely treasure) and receiving what God will give.” (WB) Currently we are traveling through the book of Mark, receiving good news for our wearied selves and world.

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