Mark 6:40

and they sat down in groups – in hundreds, and in fifties.


by twos
or any other
up to three hundred
we are in a human range

decisions can be reached
care given one-to-one
challenges offered and received
mercy be understood

beyond our limits
holding one another
becomes impersonal
power creeps in

first we argue
then we flare
schism angry split
distanced enough to war

humpty has fallen
a new leader’s plan
fails to pull us together
denies a new “good”


To make it as easy as possible on the Twelve serving such a crowd, the instructions contained another double word πρασιάι πρασιάι. Bratcher207 reminds us:

Prasia (only here in the N.T.) meant originally ‘a garden plot’; when used as here it means ‘in orderly groups’, ‘in rows’, ‘in ranks’ (cf. Moulton & Milligan). The element of order is stressed in the use of this word. The multitude formed orderly rows which could be easily and quickly served by the Disciples.

For a shepherd Jesus makes a good gardener, shaping raised beds to ease maintenance rather than shunting sheep and goats around from feeding patch to feeding patch.

As we watch a mechanism being developed to assist the Twelve, step-by-step, get out of their resistance to Jesus’ invitation to “Feed them yourselves”, reflect on this comment by Wright80-81:

If, then, we repeat Jesus’ command (‘You give them something to eat’) that doesn’t just mean ‘work a bit harder at famine relief’, though that would certainly help. It will also mean that those who discover the living God in and through Jesus must be prepared to face up to the evil structures and powers that still dominate and control so much of God’s world, and to challenge them in the name of Jesus and with the power of his victory on the cross. It isn’t just a matter of ‘he did supernatural things, so why shouldn’t we?’ It’s a matter of the full achievement of Jesus, of which these strange acts were just a part and a signpost, being brought to bear, through prayer and faithful action, on the world that still waits for the kingdom.

William Wilberforce did it with slavery (it took him an entire lifetime, too); who will do it with world poverty and starvation?

Mark 6:39

Jesus directed them to make all the people take their seats on the green grass, in parties;


OK standby
first redefine

one meal missed
is not starvation

feasts are not
about overflowing cups

so let’s feast
with one another

you and you and you
together sit talk grow

what teaching do you remember
how might you teach this

rejoice in nutritious meaning
be ready to feed others


Remember here that the stage direction or command given is in direct relationship to the resistance of the Twelve to shift gears into being hospitable rather than receiving hospitality. This is a life-long learning.

We are back to a practicum instead of theory. If previous learnings haven’t stuck, it is time to experience them again.

In Jesus’ day eating/feasting took place in a reclining position. This adds a different spacial arrangement than sitting in a chair and at table.

For people associated with their religious heritage (which cannot be assumed today) there would have been an almost knee-jerk response to remember the 23rd Psalm and lying down in green pastures. There is a restoration of soul, community, and creation in the air.

Acknowledging that “green” is not a universal descriptor of grass, think desert settings and grass something more yellowish than greenish (chartreusy?). The green here, χλωρός (chlōros) is the root of chlorophyll—a gift that transforms light matter to life energy.

Here we are making use of a process of human metamorphosis, a communal act that can change hearts and minds—feasting. [Note: Obviously feasts can move in the other direction (see Herod’s hardening and not being able to change earlier in Chapter 6).]

It is encouraging to see that the banquet being prepared for is intended for “all” the people—those whose brain is already full of teaching or have received their healing and those still in process. The Greek binds us together with a double word (συμπόσια συμπόσια—sumposia, a drinking party) as δύο δύο did for the Twelve. Party on!

Mark 6:38

“How many loaves have you?” he asked; “Go, and see.” When they had found out, they told him, “Five, and two fish.”


always it comes back
my care for other’s hunger
threatens to deepen mine

so how much do I have
and how much do I need
for that changes reporting

five loaves and two fish
for twelve or more
sounds about right

now is this after
figuring in our own
evening meal or before

knowing our desire to live well
a calculated response is tempting
and a trigger to recognize a test

learners learn by failing
odds are they had much more
but such details pale in significance

the need is more than
one hundred times as much
where is abundance much less enough


“For Jesus, the desert was a place of testing and formation, as it had been for the Israelites in the Exodus. It would be a place of testing for the disciples as well.” LaVerdiere171.

The test for Jesus, this time, came from the Twelve. How will he respond to their vigorous denial of always being on the road to recognize hospitality in others as an entry point to a life change or to offer it through their healing and teaching.

Jesus stays steady. He doesn’t take the bait to enter into a power struggle by taking back their commissioning.

Rather, Jesus asks a question that brings the Twelve back to the reality of this setting—“How much? Look and see.”

Lo and behold, the money red-herring and personal privilege fade to the background for a moment (yes, dear reader, they will return all too soon).

An assessment is made, “Five loaves; two fish.” For twelve men, not a feast, but enough to see them through the night. No wonder they were resistant to sharing when markets were in the vicinity.

Jesus, shepherding both the crowd and the Twelve, starts with this small amount of food with a remembrance of earlier times when the people were tested by hunger—times still remembered as Manna-time, Kairos-time, Right-time, Providential-time, or Enough-time.

Mark 6:37

But Jesus answered, “It is for you to give them something to eat.” “Are we to go and spend almost a year’s wages on bread,” they asked, “to give them to eat?”


an eternal dialog
between self and soul
bogs us down in frog ponds
with responses never up to
opportunities offered

we can be loved
for ourselves alone
and loved and loved again
without golden hair
with a failed test or many

we shift personal
to communal when it suits
and the other way around
to take advantage
claiming aggrievement rights

your or we
leaves loopholes aplenty
to avoid what we have
in favor of what we don’t
so fault is never ours


The contrasting responses continue. Jesus, shepherd, says, “Feed, be hospitable”. A weary Twelve, say, “What! Impossible!”

Again and again it turns out that our best intention for witnessing is trumped by a concern for money and its accumulation for my use.

How easy it is for us to allow our agonized indignancy rise to the surface when we are tired and frustrated. Of course, we seldom admit to such feelings and find a culturally acceptable way to sublimate them. In Roman times and in our own capitalistic times, money becomes the measure of ministry. Its corollary is the neoconservative emphasis upon personal responsibility.

Between the money and claiming people are individually responsible, the Twelve have argued their case. And successfully so.

Myers74 talks about the on-going contrast in this fashion:

The disciples try to solve the problem of hungry masses through ‘market economics’: sending the people to village stores or counting their change. Jesus, on the other hand, teaches self-sufficiency through a practice of sharing available resources.

And LaVerdiere171 thusly:

From the point of view of the disciples, the crowd was an overwhelming problem, but from the point of view of Jesus, it was but a challenge and a wonderful opportunity.

In wilderness retreat hunger is a reality—our own and others. A significant question for us is how we frame what is facing us.

Mark 6:36

Send the people away, so that they may go to the farms and villages around and buy themselves something to eat.”


an unspoken pop quiz
arises within many hungered dreams
succulent fish in a desert
significant quiet amid a crowd

what were we learning
before starting to count
ceiling tiles and slow seconds
until lunchtime recess

oh yes announcing
that over the rainbow is
and is revealed presently
through people’s lives

were the quiz true false
we would have aced it
but the lab tripped us up
too many people too close

the very ones fished for
we dismissed as weeds
fouling our nets
we need less needy targets

fortunately one quiz
does not a course make
right after our break
we’ll double down on study


As the Twelve weary, going over the basic teachings for the umpteenth time, they remember the rule about shaking the dust off their feet.

Obviously the crowd was not being hospitable toward the Twelve. The hoi polloi had their demands that would not notice the needs of the Twelve. If the crowd couldn’t live up to a modicum of politeness, something will have to be done.

That something is shaking dust, the opposite of sharing resources, hospitality.

The Twelve repeat themselves: “After all, they have needs that go beyond what we see as our resources. It is only being kind and loving to dismiss them with a blessing so they can get to the market before it closes and provide for themselves.”

This is pretty reasonable stuff until we attend to a particular word in the Greek that stands behind the phrase, “send them away”. The imperative word ἀπολύω (apoluō) is used in the Christian scriptures for “divorce”. Of course the Twelve would deny this and claim its softer meaning of a release, temporary, simply so the crowd had time to eat and return another day.

Imagine a Mark with emoticons to help us read tone.

Mark 6:35

When it grew late, his disciples came up to him, and said, “This is a lonely spot, and it is already late.


it is late in the day
I repeat
it is late in the day
remember
we are on retreat
yes
intended to rest
but
the crowds
O
the crowds
here
a retreat setting
without
a retreat result
when
will you stop teaching
and comfort our hunger
for
it is late in the day
truly
it is late in the day


The Twelve were tired before they began what was to be a time of respite. Another retreat is alright if it must be, but a vacation, O, a vacation, that would be the ticket. Now at the end of a day that revealed there was not going to be a party just for them, the isolation of the crowded place they found themselves in began to grate.

With these few words we shift from the reports of the Victory Tour of the Twelve to an example of how short-lived our high-points are and how easily they are lost.

LaVerdiere172 clarifies this shift:

With the contrasting reaction of Jesus and the disciples, the setting is complete and the story is engaged. Jesus accepted to be shepherd for the crowd, but the disciples, overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the harsh conditions of the desert, refused. They even asked Jesus the shepherd to send the crowd away.

There is much irony in the contrast. Jesus had sent his disciples to a desert place where they might rest and find nourishment (6:31). The disciples wanted the crowd sent away from the desert back to the farms and villages to find themselves something to eat (6:35–36). It did not occur to them how they would find nourishment for themselves in the desert.

Earlier Jesus had sent the disciples on mission with instructions to take no food, no money, not even a sack for the Exodus journey. Jesus’ intention was that they should not rely on such things to fulfill their mission. But now with the vast crowd in the desert, and without food and money, they felt totally unable to fulfill their mission and were prepared to abandon it.

Readers of Mark are responders to Mark. Pause for a reflection on where you might be on the brag—whine continuum.

Mark 6:34

On getting out of the boat, Jesus saw a great crowd, and his heart was moved at the sight of them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.


at least someone retreated in place
catching a glint of sun on placid blue
a single moment eclipses memories
expected privilege is comforted by vanity
desired life eternal tested with death
well-doing karma faced with delay
no breath for sail but plenty for soul

freshened eyes see into consequences
striving for a cure only lasts
until a next malady brings its question
meaning is left for the shadows
sun’s yellow reflected blue bounces
into a dry brown landscape
reframing healing to living anyway


Compassion is an overworked and undervalued word. I am assisted by trying to hear it in different ways. Bratcher204

reminds us about how this has been translated into languages beyond those we usually think of: “Compassion is an emotion frequently described in terms closely related to words for ‘pain’ and ‘crying’, e.g. ‘he cried in his insides’ (Shilluk), ‘pain came to his heart’ )Tojolabal), ‘his heart was full of mercy’ (Bare’e), and ‘he died of pity’ (Kiyaka).”

In Greek the root σπλάγχνον (splagchnon, stronger than spleen to refer to the intestines, bowels) is the locus for what is translated as compassion. Strong’sG4698 talks about it this way,

… the bowels were regarded as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart (tender mercies, affections, etc.)

When was the last time you thought about Jesus’ bowels? This is indicative of how we have sanitized religion to remove it from the hunger, physical processes, and even sexuality of our everyday self.

At stake is going to be the way the Twelve attend to their own bowel habits. Will their compassion be constipated or regular? In turn this is a question to ourselves. It seems to be in the midst of testing and retreating deeper than the test that Jesus finds a way to escape our usual dualistic ways of engaging the differences that come with others. Is our compassion enough to double us over to sense both their and our own need for teaching and healing and feeding?

Mark 6:33

Many people saw them going, and recognized them, and from all the towns they flocked together to the place on foot, and got there before them.


leaving on a slow sailboat
when people can see
more than half-way
to another shore
reduces the options
for a surprise arrival

in the face of a felt need
rest and renewal are rebuffed
by our becalmed ruach
we see a growing crowd
tracking our slow progress
frustration takes our words

first retreat delayed
second retreat denied
third xtreme unfairness
fourth agitated muttering
fifth anxious snacking
sixth arrive empty


There are paparazzi and their informants everywhere. If someone has a modicum of celebrity or notoriety about them, their movements are noticed. Jesus has been noticed by Tetrarch Herod and the religious leadership. As wily and wilderness oriented as Jesus is, he keeps getting noticed—after all you can’t fulfill a task of changing hearts and behaviors in a vacuum.

It is not at all surprising that a move toward retreat is noticed. Nothing sells like a picture of a public figure in a skimpy bathing suit. And, secondarily, what better time to ambush a healer for a little personal attention?

Of more interest is Mark’s singular use of the little word “ran” (συντρέχω, syntrechō). It comes from two words that means “run together”. Syn is a primary preposition denoting unity and trechō is a primary verb used to describe the haste involved in a race. Trechō has two other characteristics. First, it can be used metaphorically when there is a peril that requires a focused exertion to deal with it. The human condition is perilous and a running together is needed. Second, trechō can use dremo as an alternative or synonym, meaning the course/career on which life together is run. And so, some number of people run to a place and gather together in anticipation of Jesus’ presence. Sounds like our ideal of Church without various factions battling over a word in the creed or how various teachings can be fruitfully applied in different situations.

Simply running together can transform a competition into a journey as we shift gears from top speed to a conversational gait and refocus personal goals within a larger vision of common good. Running together is a spiritual discipline.

Mark 6:32

So they set off privately in their boat for a lonely spot.


again rhythm again
good report grievous
renewal retreat survival


The Twelve were sent out, two by two, with very specific work to do. When they finally return to relate stories there isn’t much content for us. The reports were out of our earshot and we are left projecting our own reporting styles.

The clergy gatherings I have been in usually have a component of one-upping each other. Tales heard the last time we gathered are retold with a bit of embellishment. New stories, often more about the teller than those involved, find their calculated way into a gathering crescendo of victory in Jesus.

It doesn’t take long for the winners to come to the fore and a pecking order is reestablished. How different were the Twelve with acknowledged favorites by order of selections and/or teacher’s pets according to who gets to go along on various field trips?

Yes, after the tale-telling there was a busy time with people showing up; stories were retold, and the energy of the Twelve was becoming more and more concentrated among the elect. All this seems very natural and even normal.

If we are going to become increasingly inward focused there are two ways to go. One is to return to the road to reload stories of triumphing over evil spirits. Another is to go more deeply into the stories that have been told and peel them back until it is possible to again see themselves as servants with no power. At best they are catalysts where healings and everything can again become possible.

This second option is going to require a significant retreat until the Twelve can catch a clearer view of the tests they have been failing with their competitive spirituality claiming more authority than a simple gift of open compassion that only asks to see more in others than we can see in ourselves.

This needs some care as it will be easy to bend over backwards to simply be a vessel of G*D’s power without actually being a partner. This false humility is as dangerous as false pride.

Jesus and the Twelve are off to find a wilderness place in which a communal retreat can take place. While there is building expectation of even more authority in which to be anointed, there is also a sense of a need for self and mutual regulation. “Come away” becomes a hypnotist’s code phrase for rebalancing.

Mark 6:31

“Come by yourselves privately to some lonely spot,” he said, “and rest for a while” – for there were so many people coming and going that they had not time even to eat.


what a hubbub
so many stories
joy set loose
assurance brimming

one by one
two by two
olive branches
tell a larger tale

there is still
fertile ground
seeded from anon
watered by tears

a word here
adjustment there
it has been
our great honor

slowly a new normal
elan simply expected
brings a next awareness
I’m tired and happy

a huddled mass
regardless of buoyancy
still has needs
let’s honor them

hi-ho hi-ho
its off to feast
we go
come on along


As a member of Kairos CoMotion, I am always intrigued when “kairos” rolls around as it does with εὐκαιρέω (eukaireō). Other translations say there was no leisure to eat.

When an opportune, suitable, propitious and timely time is not the present time, it is past time for a retreat into deep wilderness for renewal of your eyes to be able to see a right moment in every moment.

It is instructive to see that the previous use of this word is used to describe the opportunity Herod took to have his birthday bash and subsequent feast and dance and death of John. This gives pause to consider how like Herod the inner circle of Jesus became as they found themselves challenged by circumstances beyond their imagination and control when Jesus’ arrest comes out of the blue. They experience the same inability as Herod to change a course of events.

We get so caught up in the comings and goings in our life that we loose focus on what is next. This leaves us prey to past experiences and trying to replicate them. As we glory in our stories of success we find we need to keep embellishing them, like a story about any caught fish, until we lose track of our growth edges being attracted by a pull into a tomorrow based on the amount of heaven we are able to establish on earth today.

Where do you need to go today to renew your leisure license? A part of being an apostle is tracking opportunities already available.