Tuesday 14 July
They all ate and were satisfied.
“Being a Christian sounds like hard work,” a friend once said to me. I can see where she was coming from.
I was a student at the time, and I’d just been explaining to her why I was often busy. I attended church services, prayer meetings, Bible studies, mission events - once I’d listed it all I wondered how I had time for my studies, let alone my friends.
It can feel like that in the Christian life, particularly for those who serve in some kind of ministry or mission. We know that the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, and we know that it is good to serve. But sometimes it’s just a bit… well… tiring, isn’t it?
For some of us, this has never been more true than during the Covid pandemic. Working patterns have changed, home life has become more difficult for many people, and keeping in contact with others online has led to the new phenomenon of ‘Zoom fatigue.’ Under pressure, we can find ourselves struggling to cope.
I wonder if that is how Jesus’ disciples felt in Mark 6. Jesus had sent out the Twelve to minister in his name. They were calling the people to repentance, healing them, and casting out demons. It is no wonder that when they returned to Jesus to feed back on their mission trip, they were exhausted. Mark tells us, “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat.” Perhaps you know the feeling.
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ tiredness is to offer them some peace and quiet. He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” If any of the disciples were daydreaming about spending their day off in a deckchair, however, they were about to be disappointed. The peace and quiet never came. Or, rather, the crowds came with them.
The people saw where they were going and rushed there ahead of them. The respite retreat turned into an open-air preaching venue, and as evening drew in the disciples’ problems were compounded because the crowd was getting hungry.
As I have found myself worn out in recent weeks, wearied by the tasks that keep me busy and the feeling that it is more difficult than ever to complete them, this story from Mark 6 has challenged me. Where I have found myself wanting to retreat into splendid isolation, tempted to shy away from this season and its particular demands, I have seen in Jesus’ actions here a greater promise than “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place.”
What Jesus does for the crowd, here, he does also for the disciples themselves. He uses this moment of need as an opportunity to teach them something about himself, as well as an opportunity to provide for their physical needs.
He instructs the disciples to collect all the food available to the crowd of five thousand men - five loaves and two fish - and has them distribute it among those gathered. “They all ate and were satisfied,” Mark says in trademark understated style, “and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.”
Jesus doesn’t renege on his promise to give the disciples rest. Rather, he shows them a picture of what true rest is really like. For people who were so rushed off their feet that they did not have time to eat, Jesus shows them that he alone is able to provide food in abundance. For those wearied by their seemingly never-ending work, Jesus shows them that he alone is able to provide satisfaction that lasts.
Sometimes when we want to escape the crowd, the crowd comes with us. But we need not despair. In these overwhelming times, when we feel under-resourced for the work we have been given to do, we have the opportunity to learn what the disciples do here. Jesus is more than able to meet our needs, to fill us, to sustain us, and to satisfy us.
Written by Alastair Gledhill, Resource Development and Online Engagement Consultant
Ali has previous experience working in digital communications, before more recently serving on the ministry team at All Souls Church. He has joined the team at CEM to help update resources and build engagement. He lives in central London.
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