Jesus Can Do a Lot with a Little

Mark 6:30-44

Here is the story of two banquets.  In the last passage, Herod threw a party to celebrate himself.  He invited all the VIPs of the day — nobles, military commanders, the leading men of town.  This was not a family-friendly affair and at the end John the Baptist is dead.  In our passage this week, Jesus is going to host a banquet as well.  The invitees are not limited to the elite but are members of a large crowd who were eager to see Jesus.  The “entertainment” is not dancing but the teaching of Jesus.  And rather than death, satisfaction is the result of the banquet Jesus holds.

#1 Ministry has worn the disciples out.

30The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  Mark 6:30-33

After a short detour to recount the story of the death of John the Baptist, Mark returns to the account of the disciples’ mission.  After their preaching and healing tour of Galilee, the twelve apostles return and report to Jesus all that had happened.  This was likely a joyful and exciting time not only to be back with Jesus but to be able to reflect on all that had taken place.  But we see here that mixed with the joy of their trip is exhaustion.  In the midst of all of their activity, apparently even taking the time to eat had become a luxury.  And so as the disciples return from their work, they are experiencing not only the emotional and spiritual burden of pouring oneself out in ministry, but physical hunger as well. Seeing their exhaustion, Jesus plans a retreat for his disciples.  He is going to take them away to a quiet and desolate place where they can rest and be recharged.

However, as it turns out the only “desolate” place the disciples experience is on the boat ride en route to a waiting crowd.  While Mark does not tell us, you can’t help but wonder if they saw the crowd gathering before their boat came ashore.  What was going through their head?  I would have been thinking to myself: Jesus, you promised we would be going to a “desolate” place — I am pretty sure this does not qualify!!  

#2 Jesus sees what is really going on.

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34

Regardless of what the disciples may or may not have been thinking, we do get to see a window into the heart of Jesus.  When he sees the great crowd gathered, he does not turn the boat around despite his intention to take his disciples to a desolate place.  He has compassion on the large crowd.  The Greek that Mark uses here is an interesting word.  It is the word splagchnizomai and could be translated literally “to be moved in the inner parts.”  That is to be moved in your guts.  Outside of the parables told by Jesus, this word, while it is used several times in the gospels, is only ever used in reference to Jesus.  Jesus has a deep-seated response to the crowd.

Mark tells us the reason Jesus has such a strong response.  It is because he saw that they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”  This is familiar imagery that we find in numerous places in the Old Testament describing the lost state of God’s people (c.f. 1 Kings 22:17, 2 Chronicles 18:16, Ezekiel 34:5, Jeremiah 10:21).  Certainly there were many issues with these people.  But the one thing they all have in common is no shepherd leader.

How does Jesus respond when he sees they have no shepherd?  Well, he begins to shepherd them.  And what does that look like?  Mark tells us!  He begins to teach them.  This is not all that Jesus will do for the crowd on this day but isn’t it interesting that he begins with teaching?

#3 Jesus asks the disciples to serve out of their weakness.

35And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”  Mark 6:35-38

The disciples come to Jesus and state the obvious:  It’s getting late Jesus and the crowd must be hungry.  How about you send them home?  Now Mark does not record any conversations the disciples may have had amongst themselves.  But perhaps they were saying to themselves: This is turning out just as yesterday did — we have no leisure even to eat! And didn’t Jesus say something about taking us away to a quiet and desolate place?

If the disciples were surprised by how long Jesus had kept the crowd, they were even more surprised to hear his response to their request to dismiss the crowd.  “You give them something to eat.”  Wow!  For the disciples, this seemed to be an impossible task:  Where in the world will we find enough food for all these people?  Are we to buy it?  Are you expecting us to pay the tab for all of these people?  Two hundred denarii  is a lot of money.  One denarii was roughly equal to a day’s wage.

Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about going into town, but to look around and see what they have available.  They return with five loaves and two fish.  At this point perhaps the disciples are relieved.  We did what you asked Jesus. We made a thorough inspection and this is all we have.  Now would you please dismiss this crowd?!

But the disciples are still not off the hook quite yet.

#4 Jesus has hidden resources that the disciples do not see.

39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. Mark 6:39-44

Jesus intends to take the little resources they have and like the parable of the sower, he will put it into the ground so that is bears fruit “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold (c.f. Mark 4:20).”  Jesus indeed can do a lot with a little.  He has the crowd, which is like a sheep without a shepherd, sit down on the green grass.  We should be thinking Psalm 23 at this point: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”  Jesus the good shepherd will tend to the flock.  They are seated in groups of 50 and 100.  Many have speculated as the reason for this seating arrangement.  Mark does not tell us.  Perhaps we are to be reminded here that God is a God of order.

Jesus looks to heaven and prays.  If nothing happens at this point, the disciples are about to look quite foolish.  They did the work to get this massive crowd of 5000 men to be seated in an orderly fashion.  But something does happen.We are not told how Jesus performs this miracle only that it happened.  Two little fish and five loaves of bread fed a hungry crowd such that all were satisfied.  When the meal was over 12 baskets of leftovers are collected which was likely more than what the disciples brought to Jesus in the first place.


Jesus is able to do a lot with a little.  He intentionally puts the disciples in a situation where they must serve not out of their strength but out of their weakness.  We would prefer to serve out of our strength.  We want to feel confident and assured in the situations we find ourselves.  But often this leads to self-reliance rather than Christ-reliance.  The apostle Paul reminds us that God has a habit of using the “weak” and “foolish” things of the world:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Do you believe Jesus really can do a lot with a little?

Discussion Questions

  1. From where had the disciples returned? What do they do when they return?
  2. Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take the disciples away to a desolate place with him?
  3. The disciples are active in pouring themselves out in ministry and then Jesus calls to rest with him that they might be filled back up. Which is more difficult for you: (1) to be active in pouring yourself in ministry or (2) to slow down and to rest in Him?
  4. What may have been going through the disciples’ minds as they saw the large crowd gathered on the shore? What is Jesus’ response to seeing the crowd?
  5. What do you think Mark means by the phrase “they were like sheep without a shepherd?”
  6. What lesson do you think Jesus was trying to teach the disciples by asking them to feed the crowd?
  7. How do the disciples respond to Jesus’ requests? How would you have responded if you were in their place?
  8. What is the difference between serving out of our weakness rather than serving out of our strength? Can you think of other people in the Bible who were called to serve out of their weakness?
  9. In what ways do you need to be reminded that Jesus can do a lot with a little?
  10. What do we learn about Jesus in this passage? What do we learn about ourselves? There are many deep lessons in this passage – what are some of them?





Add a Comment