Go and see – Tuesday after Epiphany – Mark 6:34-44
This is the story of a spoiled retreat and a miraculous feast. Jesus had sent out the twelve on a short-term mission trip. He gave them power over the unclean spirits and sent them out in pairs. They went out and cast out demons, healed the sick and proclaimed the good news about Jesus, calling people to repent. Jesus trusted them to join in his mission and in his work; he even shared his power with them. By all accounts they were successful. Now, in verse thirty they’ve come back. There’s a lot of energy and excitement as they gather around Jesus. You can imagine them all pumped up, eager to tell him everything that they’ve done, all that they accomplished in his name.
However the disciples must have also been exhausted by all the unscripted coming and going of the crowds. So, Jesus said, ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.’ He invited them to a retreat at a quiet spot on the lakeshore. This is the origin of the Christian practice of making a retreat: a lonely place, where we can drop our public mask, reflect on our life, and rest. Many people are afraid to be alone! Do not be afraid of being alone. Fear rather the opposite. As Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
When they reached the other side they find another great crowd waiting for them! Mark says there were so many people around them. The crowd is so large the disciples couldn’t even sit down to share a meal with Jesus. This means more demands, more conversations, more pressures upon them just when they’re meant to be having a break. So much for their quiet time! You can imagine how disappointed the disciples must have felt. This was meant to be their time alone with Jesus, their time to have a break, to rest and recharge.
But what is also interesting is that the crowds gladly followed Jesus even to a “deserted place”. Think about it, there was no luxury of a Church or a special area. This was a deserted area and yet they followed Jesus. They do so because they are hungry for the WORD. This is the difference between the good shepherd and the bad ones mentioned in verse 34. If our people are being fed with the WORD they will never ask how many mountains they have to climb or is the retreat in an air conditioned hall. They will simply come! We are told that Jesus, seeing the crowd had compassion on them. They were like sheep without a shepherd. This statement is an indictment and a scathing critique on the religious leadership in Israel. However, in his compassion, Jesus puts the people’s needs first and calls on the twelve to serve these thousands who are evidently hungry
The solution of the disciples was to send the people away. The disciples wanted something to be done; Jesus showed them what they might do. He said to them what he says to us today, ‘You give them something to eat!’. Real prayer involves a change in my behaviour. So I need to be like the bewildered disciples here and ‘go and see’ what resources I might use to serve the needy. The words ‘go and see’ contrast to the ‘come and see’ of the earlier meetings of the disciples with Jesus. Jesus encourages us to go out and discover the needs of the people. Do I share his concern for the many in today’s world, both old and young? Have I anything to offer a hungry world? Can I help even one person? Can I be ‘good news’ to even one of the millions who are in need?
The actions of Jesus are exactly similar to his actions at the Last Supper. Jesus foreshadows the super-abundant gift of the Eucharist when he looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves, and gives them to his disciples to set before the people. The feeding of the five thousand speaks of the generosity of God and his kindness towards us. When God gives, he gives abundantly. He gives us more than we need for ourselves so that we can share with those who lack what they need.
Mark’s story has several levels. There is the stark contrast between the story of Herod’s macabre birthday party for the upper classes, told earlier in chapter six, where John the Baptist meets his fate, and Jesus’ banquet for ordinary people. On one level the multiplication of the loaves simply represents Jesus’ compassion as he puts his divine power at the service of a hungry multitude. On another level, the feeding looks forward to what Jesus will do at the Last Supper when he ‘looks up to heaven, blesses and breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples.’
Today among many take-aways we can ask ourselves; what place, if any, does the Eucharist play in my life?