The sixth in a series of papers I wrote on the Gospel of Mark. This was one of those moments that changed my understanding of the Bible forever. It’s a simple revelation, “Oh, that’s what Jesus meant,” but when you really settle down and realize the implications, you realize that it completely changes the lesson John-Mark was trying to teach…
In the wake of the strenuous struggle between scornful unbelief and tenacious faith in the previous chapter, John-Mark continues his breathless journey by bringing us face-to-face with more faithlessness. He continues to elaborate on the many forms unbelief can take. Specifically, in this chapter we see Jesus’ hometown questioning His claim to honor (vs. 1-6), and Herod wondering if Jesus is the reincarnated John the Baptist (vs. 14-16). Both responses are two sides of the same coin; both attempt to discredit Jesus by either challenging His claim to honor and authority, or by assigning His greatness to someone else. Both of these deceptive trails end in the same pitfall: People refusing to acknowledge God as God.
In the midst of all this chaos, John the Baptist is beheaded (vs. 17-29), spurring the next phase of the Kingdom, as Jesus sends the Twelve out (vs. 7-13) and prepares to launch His ministry more publicly. It seems the “kronos time” has arrived, which means the responsibility of the Kingdom will begin to be passed to the disciples and expanding Church. We see this admonition repeated twice in the last pages of this whirlwind chapter, as we relive two familiar stories: Jesus feeding the five thousand (vs. 30-44), and Jesus walking on water (vs. 45-56).
These two beloved stories again place the burden of the Kingdom on the faith of its citizens, but in a different context than we’ve seen before. Most of the time, when we retell these stories, we fondly focus on the miraculous power of Jesus. But, if we truly pay attention to Jesus’ words during these events, we see that promoting His own power and authority was not Jesus’ agenda at the time. His authority had already been established, and would continue to be established until He culminated it in His sacrifice on the cross. Rather, both of these scenarios were explicitly set up to spur the disciples to enact their own power and authority.
It is very clear that the disciples have already begun to walk, at least in part, in their Kingdom authority. Jesus sent them out with spiritual “papers” of commendation, and they returned with a glad report of their success (vs. 12-13, 30). Demons are cast out and the sick are healed; clearly, the disciples have already had a taste of Jesus’ vision for His church. Is it any wonder, then, when Jesus was presented with the problem of a hungry crowd, that He turned to His disciples and said, “Why don’t you feed them?” (vs. 37).
We usually glaze over this statement of Jesus’. We assume it was sarcastic, perhaps an invitation for them to ask for His provision. But in reality, I believe Jesus was making a serious request He deeply hoped would be obeyed literally. Jesus wanted the disciples to feed the crowd, not only as a spiritual metaphor for their role in the advancing Kingdom, but as an opportunity to practice the practical power and authority they had recently gained. The disciples could have fed the five thousand miraculously just as Jesus had, and I believe He was genuinely hoping they would accept the assignment.
Obviously, they misunderstood His intent; hours later, they would also become unduly alarmed at His display of power when He walked on water, showing that they were still far from understanding the full reality of the Kingdom. But the lesson remains for us today. Not only do we not need to wait for Jesus to work a miracle—we are enabled to work that miracle ourselves—but also, next time Jesus makes a request of us that seems impossible, we should consider that perhaps He is simply calling us higher, inviting us to walk in the authority He has so graciously given us.