Feeding the Five Thousand
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Jesus Walks on the Water
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
As one story runs into another, as one encounter leads on to others, there is a sense, in this passage of the urgency and fervour of Jesus' ministry - taking time out to grieve, to pray, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, teach the crowds, nurture the disciples, and so the list goes on, a life of ministry and service. There is a lot of praying, learning, teaching and growing to be done.
Jesus took himself off to pray because, among other things, he had just heard the news of the death, in prison, of his cousin, John the Baptist. As the news leaked out, others wanted to mourn John too and soon there gathered a community in mourning. It seems that then, as now, there is solace in the communal sharing of grief.
The crowd, having spent the day listening to Jesus teaching, witnessing his healing and compassion, discover that evening has come and they are hungry. At the urging of his disciples to send the crowd away so that they can find something to eat, Jesus tells them, "You feed them."
He encourages the disciples to confront the needs of the crowd at that point and seek to provide a solution to their predicament by finding creative ways to feed them.
However you might choose or be led to interpret the Feeding of the 5000, there is no doubt that a miracle occurred that day as a hungry crowd reached out to one another and discovered their needs met with abundance. Their homeward journey was coloured by wonder at the community they had experienced gathered around Jesus that day and by the abundance they had experienced in sharing.
As Jesus seeks some time to replenish his energy after a day of giving, the disciples move on to their next drama - a storm at sea.
Those of Jesus disciples who were fishermen when Jesus called them must have been used to the unpredictable weather conditions in the Sea of Galilee and would be respectful of the power of the elements. It is hardly surprising that it is Peter, of all the disciples who, literally throws caution to the wind, and enters the water to walk toward Jesus when he appears walking toward them in the midst of the storm. While Peter walks on water, he discovers that the wind still has the power to take the feet from him. So,although he stepped out in faith, he is buffeted by forces beyond his control that threaten to overwhelm him until Jesus intervenes.
There is a tendency to admire those who take risks in life, like Peter, while overlooking those who are quietly faithful but who nonetheless bring others into the kingdom by their steady commitment.
The community of faith requires trail blazers from whom others can learn and be inspired. But it also requires those who watch and pray, those whose example of discipleship is less scary and just as encouraging.
There is a common theme in each of these stories of "A day in the life..." of Jesus enabling the people around him to push the boundaries, to discover that they are capable of more than they imagined. We witness Jesus encouraging individual growth while cultivating shared community response to challenge. And, in that shared response, there is the potential to discover the abundance of God.
Perhaps there is an opportunity in taking this passage as a whole, to not become caught up in the mechanics of the individual parts, but to consider instead the overall sweep of the narrative, capturing something of the pace of discipleship in the fast lane.