Mark 6:46

After he had taken leave of the people, he went away up the hill to pray.

another mountain
another prayer

a dead sea
a death valley
sahara gobi

everywhere we be
mountain top possibilities
rise from no-where
to view every-where

first we say goodbye
fasting from relationships
commencing a vision quest

settling one stage further
up a seven-storied life

With Mark readers can’t escape ambiguity. The good-bye mentioned here can be a mild bidding of farewell, a bit stronger taking leave, and an even stronger, “get rid of”. Of course we have our images of Jesus that have built over the millennia that project all manner of manners upon this human one. The reader will make of it what they will.

Regardless of the style of parting, there is also a live question as to whether the “them” mentioned refers to the Twelve or the Crowd. Here, again, the reader has a choice to make as the style may be different depending upon to whom a good-bye is directed.

Jesus regularly prays in a variety of places. Jesus’ first time away in Mark is to a desert for testing, which shapes one’s prayer [1:12–13]; when a whole town gathered he sought out a deserted place for prayer which led to expanding his range [1:35]; having gone to a shoreline (to pray?), a crowd gathered and Levi was called [2:13–14]; a mountain was ascended and resulted in the Twelve being called up and appointed [3:13]; later, upon a mountain, a transfiguration [9:2ff.], and coming down will be a prayerful exorcism [9:14ff.]; even on a road, Jesus can get out ahead (praying?) ]10:32]; perhaps as a surprise we can imagine Jesus looking for prayer in the Temple [11:11] and returning later to insist upon it; prayer goes on within a garden of olive trees in the context of a sleeping triumvirate [14:32ff.]; prayer may be particularly present with a cone of silence in the midst of a trial [15:5]; a prayer continued in the presence of crucifixion pain [15:34] and concluded in a tomb [16:6].

Prayer by prayer, the story of the beginning of good news shifts forward and calls for a revisiting and applying. The first testing in the desert sets the rest in motion. When able to pray and thus retreat in the face of wilderness testing, either wild or ordinary, life is full.

Mark 6:45

Immediately afterward Jesus made his disciples get into the boat, and cross over in advance, in the direction of Bethsaida, while he himself was dismissing the crowd.

a crowd a flock
is like any other
and also not

individuals writ large
conflicted dissonance
commonly denominated

awaiting a hive-mind
searching for a shepherd
ready but inept

received and taught
exercised and fed
eventually dismissed

dandelion seeds
blown into tomorrow
a shepherd’s decision

a time to gather
a time to scatter
turn and turn again

With people fed, there comes an urgency to be off on another adventure.

Did Peter have the Boatswain’s Call and pipe “Still”, Jesus gave instructions, and Peter then piped, “Carry On”? If not this organized, how do you envision Jesus urging, commanding, compelling the Twelve back into the boat?

Presumably the Twelve were still in an oppositional mode or they wouldn’t need to be sent off without Jesus’ presence—remember what happened the last time Jesus wasn’t with them (going to sleep is practically being gone)? Sailors and fisher folk have their own superstitions and it doesn’t take much to spook them. If Good Luck Charm Jesus wasn’t going to be with them to see them through a difficulty, their wariness quotient rises.

Mark is not all that helpful with his geographical references. They seem to be more metaphorical than cartographically precise. It appears that Bethsaida is just around the corner and so it shouldn’t be a long journey or one requiring to get out into Lake Galilee very far. When we remember the crowd arriving ahead of the crew, it might be that Jesus just needed to stretch his legs, Prayer Jog to Bethsaida, and arrive ahead of the Twelve.

At any rate, the boat was launched.

In anticipation of Jesus having the moment of respite that was needed by both himself and the Twelve as they reported on their commissioned work, Jesus turns to bless the crowd on their way. This may well have been a traditional blessing that signified the end of this teaching and feeding time. It may have been something short, “Bye, Bye!” or crafted for the occasion, “You’re full to overflowing, so overflow into other’s lives that together your hearts might be changed.”

Mark 6:44

The people who ate the bread were five thousand in number.

at first a crowd
everyone out for their own
now they and their hairs
are numbered
one by one by one
and met in fifties
hundreds and thousands
with a new commonness
beyond individual need

it was the teaching
that caught us off-guard
when we came for the healing
stayed for an announcement
deepening within us
connecting hope to action

we still don’t get
how to organize
heaven on earth

but we do know when is now

At the end of this story we hear of 5,000 being fed without an expression of astonishment.

Those present may not have known a feat of food multiplication or cloning had gone on. The Twelve wanting to send folks away but instructed to find what was available to feed the crowd, may well have stopped after finding 5 loaves and 2 fish with an expectation that surely Jesus would now send the busybodies away.

Even Jesus’ looking prayerful wouldn’t signal anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps a simple blessing was heard, “Barukh Attah Adonai, sower of seed and harvester of bread.” So ordinary as to not draw attention but live within expectation.

While the Greek is clearly about 5,000 males, there is no need for the reader to limit those who shared in the bounty to men only. It may even be more helpful to use this ending as a palin for the last feasting/feeding we heard about. Herod’s formal feast of powerful people ended in the death of 1, John. This feeding of a powerless crowd of people feeling their need, ends in the filling or revival of 5,000.

Thus ends a cycle:

• Twelve commissioned and reliant upon hospitality

• Herod Feasting, Salome Dancing, John Dying

• Twelve report on their work

• Jesus Insisting, Twelve Gathering, 5,000 Feeding

Seen in alteration, we find a reviving of exhausted people as a sign contrary to dissipation, foolishness, and murder. Only feeding three people (Elijah, a widow, and a widow’s son) would do as a sign. Feeding 5,000 is hospitality writ large; a harvest of great abundance.

Mark 6:43

and they picked up enough broken pieces to fill twelve baskets, as well as some of the fish.

did you know
the disciple’s nickname

they were basket cases
until called
to hold learning

and a tisket a tasket
pulled out treasures
along the way

continually retreating
to everyday provisions
leftovers supreme

As captivating as large numbers are—this throng grouped into 50s and 100s or later reports of at least 5,000 and 4,000 people—it is the smaller number of 12 that intrigues.

There are obvious connections with Twelve Followers and Twelve Tribes. In the context of this story, 12 is excess value. There is enough and more. Whether Followers or Tribes, they are excess value oriented. If they are not a blessing for others, they might as well not be taking up space or wasting time.

I remember this in my latest regular blessing:

Mercy and Joy abound

take Plenty

and More to Pass Around

After reporting the gift of living in expectation of hospitality and a trust there will be enough, the Twelve had suddenly, urgently, come away without time to eat and, presumably, without provisions. The bread and fish they finally found among those in the crowd who were hospitable enough to share, became bread seed and fish seed multiplied 30, 60, and 100 times—a living parable. Such excess was evidenced by an extra basketful of plenty to pass on to people as they were blessed on their way to a next day—“Plant this bread seed and fish seed in the lives of those you meet.”

The bread and fish that came from the crowd for the crowd, Twelve, and Jesus grew to be sufficient to distribute to at least one degree more of separation (those the crowd will next meet). Presumably excess value will continue to echo and generate additional seed.

This well-graced event has overtones of what we have come to know as the Eucharist or Communion (a ritual worthy of a capital letter). The reader will need to wrestle with a tension of whether their experience of such a Bountiful Feast, Grace, or Dayenu is of the everyday or lives only within an authorized liturgical structure. This calls for reflection on the fullness of whatever size “basket” is our life.

Mark 6:42

Everyone had sufficient to eat;

eat my lovelies
your journey is long
loneliness long
you’ll need reserves

there are insufficiencies enough
in every tempting test
without a blessing condiment adds focus
against otherwise fainting from hunger

little do we know
when a next manna outbreak
will be loosed
who can explain it

Everyone (crowd, disciples, and Jesus found themselves Fed, Full, Satisfied!

This is the Economy of Grace from days of yore.

If anyone is excluded from this economy, the whole system eventually starves. An empty stomach or other emptiness rebels in the midst of privileged resources.

Myers78 brings us the insight:

The survival and well-being of people and their communities [in their testing time] take precedence over profit for a few, one person or community or nation does not walk on the back of others to get ahead; the “development” of the human family cannot take place at the expense of the rest of creation; who we are is not measured by how we earn a living, or what possession we have. We who are followers of Jesus must try to make these values real in our world so that there will be “enough for everyone.”

As we listen in on a story that brings enough, it is helpful to review a sense of Dayenu, remembered from page 136. In its Hebrew origin we might translate it as Day(enough)enu(to us). It is a communal word as it rehearses, remembers, palins, the course of events leading to this moment. It would have been enough were the world still only a formless void or enough that Manna (whatever it is) came in a desert to see us through or enough that Mary only heard an announcement or enough when our latest joy came at a needful time.

Dayenu reminds us that we are fuller than we knew, even when starving on a purposeful Exodus or in a random concentration camp. We remember that at some point we were full to satisfaction, even if we are now undergoing chemotherapy. Such fullnesses remind us of the blessing of being partnered with G*D and Neighb*r, even when less than full or fully empty. A Miracle of Enough is transformative.

Mark 6:41

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and said the blessing; he broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples for them to serve out to the people, and he divided the two fish also among them all.

we try so hard
to make sense of experience
to conform strange to known

how large need bread be
will a Jonah-size fish be enough
are we constrained by real numbers

inquiring minds raise more questions
than there are reasonable responses
distracted we make stuff up

heaven is declared to be up
rather than an inward third eye
exclusive of those in front of us

shift the image to paradise
we suddenly know thankfulness
every gesture pleases

gifts are set before us
insufficient in themselves
invoking ancient manna

a blessing of peace be to you
a piece for you and all is blessed
we’re all in together what a blessing

We are an enfleshed people who deal with life in its tangibleness. Mark begins this ritual by taking a firm hold on loaves of bread and fish. It is easy for them to crumble or slip-slide away.

From here we enter into partnership with a larger view than the surface of material items. A prayer, a listening, an agreement occurs as a way to dive into the very atomic structure of life.

Here we have a blessing based on the presence of bread and fish. This εὐλογησεν (eulogēsen, blessing) sees these objects and brings a new perspective or framing to them and/or recognizes their connection with everything else and is a word of thanks for their presence. There is a direct encounter and thankful connection made with what is already in place that goes back before they were and looks forward, thankfully, to where their energy will take us.

It is important to remember the Jewish tradition that objects were not blessed (like we do with guns at the beginning of hunting season or pets on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi). Blessing is directed at G*D. The elements come pre-blessed. Another way to put this—Jesus looked at the loaves and fish and blessed G*D.

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.