By: Raymond Harris
Note to the Reader
We are continuing our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.
He Taught Them
The word shepherd brings to mind many things. A shepherd is a man in a field. He works in the dust and mud and in the warmth and cold. The shepherd feeds. He sheers. He protects. He leads. Doing all of those things in order to bring his livestock to market in one fashion or another. But does a shepherd teach?
Food: Figurative and Literal
Mark Chapter Six is filled with many things; from Jesus in Nazareth to the record of the execution of John the Baptist; from feeding the five thousand to Jesus walking on the water. But it is Jesus during the feeding of the five thousand that is our focus.
Prior to Jesus feeding the five thousand, the Scripture says that Jesus saw many people and was moved with compassion.1 For the life of me, I thought that Jesus fed the people because he was moved with compassion for them, but that is not how the narrative unfolds. Jesus saw the people, saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd and because they had no one to guide them he had compassion on them, teaching them many things.
Jesus spent the majority of that day teaching that group of five thousand people, we know this from verses thirty-five, thirty-six and forty-four. It was the disciples who told Jesus to send the people away so that the people could get some food. But it was Jesus who told the disciples to feed the people and from there we find the feeding of the five thousand. But the miraculous mealtime is not our focus, it is Jesus’ teaching that is of interest.
Food: Figurative is Spiritual
The Gospels, while in-depth and profound, simply do not contain everything that Jesus said or did; we know this from the Apostle John.2 So this moment in Mark has interesting items beyond the moment of Jesus literally feeding the people.
From the passage, we know that Jesus was moved with compassion. But compassion led him to teach. What did he teach them? From the narrative, we know that he taught them for the majority of the day, but the cynical part of me wants to claim the people endured his “teaching” in hopes that they would be fed, which they were, yet the passage does not seem to convey that idea. So we are left with the fact that Jesus, moved with compassion, taught a multitude of people.
What would we think of someone who claimed that the person who instructed us did so because he was moved with compassion, because he perceived that we were clueless? It seems probable that we would find that claim revolting. In our culture, it does not seem that teaching is done because of compassion. Students are charged for instruction they receive; whether it is a public school, private school, seminary, trade school, university, or continuing education, all instruction given to the student is paid for by someone. So what does it mean that Jesus saw them, saw them as clueless people and taught them, and taught them without charging them anything, and then fed them?
One of the things that we can learn is that Jesus practiced the concept “Freely you have received, Freely give.”3 He taught his disciples to do such, he did such. Teaching is an expression of compassion. Receiving instruction from another is how we learn, whether it is from parent to child or master to disciple. There seems to be a truth in the business world that continuing education sharpens abilities. Likewise in the spiritual world, continuing education sharpens the abilities. It matters not our age or longevity of discipleship, there is always something that we can learn that will enable us and empower us to be a more mature disciples. May the LORD bless us as we seek to learn.