Today’s Scripture Reading (October 16, 2017): Mark 8
G. K. Chesterton wrote, “To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” What all of these things have in common is that they are easy in the abstract. It is amazing how often I ask questions with regard to loving those outside of our societal understanding, forgiving those that have deeply wounded us, having faith in the most unbelievable circumstances, or hope for a future that seems so bleak, and the people respond with words that seem to come straight from the interaction between Jesus and his rich young man - “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20). And then something happens, and everything changes. Questioning replaces faith and fear replaces love. Forgiveness and hope belong solely to yesterday as we try to move into an uncertain future.
I have to wonder what was going on inside of the minds of the disciples as Jesus came to them to ask them to feed the four thousand. What was the difference between the feeding of the five thousand, and the feeding of the four thousand? Maybe the disciples were rubbing their hands together with glee as they asked Jesus where they were going to find enough food to feed the people, but I don’t think so. Even though Jesus had fed the five thousand through their actions, I don’t think that they had enough faith to go out and feed the four thousand. Something has happened, and everything has changed.
There are some differences between the two events. The most obvious difference is the number of people fed, four thousand versus five thousand. With the feeding of the five thousand, the initiators of the miracle had been the disciples, but here it is Jesus idea. The situation seems to have been much worse with the feeding of four thousand than the five thousand. While the five thousand had been with Jesus for a day, the four thousand had been with Jesus for three days. Two interesting thoughts arise out of this understanding. First, the disciples were apparently unwilling to bring up the subject of feeding the people with Jesus as they had when he was with the five thousand. Instead, they waited two extra days and even then it was Jesus who announced the people’s need for food. Second, one of the humanistic explanations for the feeding of the five thousand was that the people had brought food with them for their day with Jesus. They shared that food with each other, placing food into the baskets rather than taking food out so that in the end there were twelve baskets of food left over. But with the four thousand, the people had been with Jesus for three days. Any food that they had brought with them was long gone. The amount of food left over also changed, twelve baskets versus seven.
And so Jesus asks his disciples to feed the people, and the disciples who have already lived through this miracle once still do not have enough faith to believe in the unbelievable. And neither do we. We struggle with faith; I know that I do. But luckily for us, it doesn’t take much faith to do some incredible things – if we truly want to.
Tomorrow’s Scripture Reading: Matthew 17