Commentators make much of the two massive feedings in Mark 6:35-45 and 8:1-10. The narratives are pregnant with significance. From one angle, the two episodes can be read as failures on the disciples’ part. The first comes just after their initial mission as agents of the kingdom’s miraculous power (6:13), yet they fail to imagine how to feed the large crowd. In the second episode, Jesus seems to be giving them a second opportunity by describing at length the situation in 8:2-3. It’s as if he’s saying, “Okay, boys, we’ve seen this before – large crowd, deserted place, need for food . . . , sound familiar?”
Both times the disciples fail to see how God’s provision might work out (6:37; 8:4).
I find it striking that in the face of the disciples’ failure, Jesus doesn’t feed the crowds to the exclusion of the disciples. He makes them servants despite themselves.
The first feeding takes place in Jewish territory, and Jesus multiplies the food and gives it to the disciples who then set it before the people like table-waiters. In the second feeding, in the region of the Decapolis, Mark stresses the disciples’ inclusion in serving the people. He notes that Jesus multiplied the bread and gave it to the disciples “to serve “ to the people, “and they served them to the people” (v. 6). After he multiplied the fish, Jesus gave it to the disciples “to be served,” too (v. 7).
Even though they are hard-hearted, slow to understand (6:52), and failing to faithfully discern Jesus’ identity and mission, Jesus is transforming them into servants to Israel and to the nations.
2 thoughts on “Inadvertent Servants”
Good observation and well-said. Thank you.
Isaiah’s servant, in 42:19, is “blind” and “deaf,” an indication of the servant’s imperfections/sinfulness (side note: an indication that the role of “suffering servant” cannot be limited to Jesus), a qualification the disciples certainly meet. Matthew has Jesus fulfilling the (Isaiah) servant texts by bearing the hurt of the world (Matt 8). Maybe Mark has Isaiah’s servant in mind, as well, as he has Jesus “bearing” the crowd’s hurt (hunger) and, subsequently, the disciples also bear that hurt as they minister to the people. (Note the implication of “bearing” the crowds’ constant pursuit in Mark 6:31 “…they had no leisure…”) “YOU give them something to eat,” Jesus said. He wanted the disciples to take it upon their hearts; to own the peoples’ suffering as their own. Isaiah’s servant suffers WITH, not INSTEAD.