Mark's Gospel

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The Feeding of the Five Thousand

(Mark 6:30-44)

The Person of Jesus

Christianity has its roots in Judaism with its belief in one God. The writers of the gospels wanted to show the close relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father, God. However they were reluctant to say completely that Jesus was God. If they did then it would appear that Christians believed in two gods. In order to get around this problem the gospel writers portrayed Jesus doing the things that only God could do:

  • He walked on water (Mark 6:45-52)
  • Calmed a storm (Mark 4:35-41)
  • Forgave a person's sins (Mark 2:1-12)
  • Fed five thousand people (Mark 6:30-44)
In the story of the feeding of the five thousand Jesus is portrayed as showing concern for people's physical needs. He felt sorry for the people because "...they were like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus is seen then as a saviour who saves his people from hunger and suffering. The story shows that God is not only concerned for people's spiritual needs but also their physical needs. This story then is important for Christians' understanding of giving to the poor. Jesus gives the food to the disciples who are told to give it to the people. Christians, as disciples of Jesus, have a responsibility to the poor and issues of world poverty.

Explanations of the Story

There are many possible explanations for the story:

  1. The story is about sharing. One person had food and started sharing his meal with someone else. When others saw what he did they too got out their meals and began to share with others who didn't have food of their own.
  2. The story is a re-enactment of Moses feeding the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:15) or the story of Elisha (2Kings 4:42)
  3. The story fits in with the Jewish idea of a messianic banquet and therefore points to Jesus as the Messiah (Isaiah 25:6ff).
  4. The breaking of the bread may be pointing to the Last Supper.
  5. The story may demonstrate that Jesus is the "bread of life" who satisfies people's deepest needs.
  6. The story may be evidence of a secret military meeting. The men are put into ranks of 50 and 100 (50 x 100=5000). The zealots were particularly active in Galilee. Mark may be identifying Jesus with the leader of a secret patriotic movement who was plotting to finally free Palestine from Roman rule. Perhaps Mark is portraying Jesus as a political Messiah.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Eucharist

Christians have understood this passage as a forerunner to the Last Supper. A striking similarity can be found with Jesus' words and actions in the feeding of the five thousand and the words spoken at the Last Supper.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand "Then Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave it to his disciples to ditribute to the people." (Mark 6:41)
The Last Supper "...Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples." (Mark 14:22)

Christians have therefore understood this passage as a direct reference to the Eucharist in which Jesus is truly present in the form of bread and wine. Jesus gives himself to people in the Eucharist just as he gave the people food in the feeding of the five thousand. The lesson of this miracle story is that Jesus is the "bread of life".

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