Scripture: Mark 6:30-44
Growing up, I disliked playing basketball. I still did it because I was a kid growing up in Indiana, which means it was the primary activity of middle school gym. I’ve never been among the tallest of fastest though so I started at a distinct disadvantage in the game. One of the biggest reasons I disliked basketball was the pressure. You see the ball would only get passed to you, if the person passing the ball thought you could score. This meant every game, I had once chance. If I took a shot and missed then I knew that the rest of the game I would not be able to do much because the ball would never come to me. This means that I came to very rarely shoot the ball because I did not want to mess it up. So unless I had a perfect shot, I tended to pass the ball away anytime I got it. After graduating high school, I did not play much basketball, but that changed in 2014 when I was assigned to Edinburgh UMC. That church has a gym, I helped with the youth group, and they played basketball every week. Since that is what the youth were doing, I played with them. To begin with I played much like I had learned growing up, going out of my way not to shoot the ball. The church’s youth minister at the time picked up on this and after just a couple of weeks asked why I never shot the ball. I told him because I am not a great shot and I usually miss. To which he responded, “Well, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
So on Sunday nights, I started shooting the ball more. I missed a lot of shots but not all of them. As the years went on, I started missing less and hitting more. While I will never be the tallest or the fastest or a great basketball player, after five years of weekly playing the game I did develop an extremely dependable jump shot. That only happened because I started taking shots even if it meant I might miss. We miss all the shots we do not take is not just solid advice for sports, it is solid life advice. After the events of this morning’s scripture, I have to wonder if in an unrecorded moment Jesus gave his disciples similar advice. Because in this morning’s scripture, Jesus essentially urges the disciples to take their shot, and they instead choose to pass the ball as quickly as possible. Jesus challenged his disciples to do the miraculous, and they chose to not do it. Today, Jesus still gives his disciples the opportunity to take their shot and do the impossible.
This morning’s scripture depicts one of Jesus’ greatest miracles: The feeding of the 5,000. This miracle is one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry. One of the telling hints to this is the fact that outside of the resurrection itself this is the only miracle to appear in all four gospels. While all of the gospels offer up some different details, the general course of events is the same. Jesus had sent the disciples out on their own, and they had recently returned. On top of that Jesus had just learned that John the Baptist had been executed. These two events, appeared to lead Jesus to thinking it was time for a personal retreat, a time to rest, regroup, and refocus as a team. That sounds like it would have been a good plan, but that is very much not how it played out.
The scripture states, “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.” The scripture kind of brushes over the course of events, but if we try to put ourselves in the story we can begin to get an idea of what might have happened. Jesus was gaining some notoriety at this time, so we get a sense that someone caught wind that Jesus was going off to do something with his closest followers. These people who caught these tidbits did not know exactly what was going, but figured it must be something special, something exclusive, and something they wanted in on. As the disciples made the preparations to travel, we can imagine how the rumors started to spread. More and more people interested in seeing what Jesus was going to do next began to speculate and spread rumors about what Jesus and his twelve disciples were up to. As the speculation grew, a sizeable group must have determined they were going to crash the party and set off. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. As a group set off, more people joined in, and as this crowed went by small villages, more people joined in to see what all of the fuss was about. This all added up to a sizeable and growing crowd waiting Jesus when he and the disciples reached the isolated space.
Imagine how this must have felt for the disciples. They had gotten in the boat because Jesus had said in verse 31, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place to get some rest.” That probably sounded really nice. After months on the road with Jesus some R&R would have been wonderful. The disciples essentially had prepared for what was supposed to be a boys camping trip only to find thousands of people waiting for them. I imagine they were ready to nope on out of there and find a quiet shore line somewhere else. Yet that is not what they did because as verse 34 records, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like seep without a shepherd.” The twelve, being the disciples of Jesus, were supposed to go where Jesus went and do what Jesus did. I mean, that was kind of their thing. Jesus stayed with the crowd, so they did too.
Of course the disciples kept an eye on practical matters, they realized that they were in a remote area with a lot of people and no support. I imagine they watched the sun start to get low in the sky as Jesus kept going, and they started to get nervous. At this point the disciples had been with Jesus long enough to do crowd control more than once and they knew a hangry crowd is a dangerous crowd. This is likely why they go to Jesus and tell him it is time to wrap this up before things start getting ugly. Jesus is not ready to go, so he throws the ball into the court of the disciples. He urges them to take a step in faith and to take their shot. He tells them, “You give them something to eat.”
Jesus was setting them up, pushing them even, to attempt something miraculous. The disciples miss the clue and they do not take the hint. Instead of taking their shot, they stated the obvious. They focus on the financial bottom line and whine about how impossibly expensive it would be to feed everyone. I can only imagine that when Jesus then ask the disciples to find out how many loaves are available, he says that with a defeated sigh. While I do not think this was exactly a test, it was an opportunity that the disciples clearly failed.
When we talk about Jesus and his earthly ministry, our focus tends to be on Jesus. This is completely understandable after all it is Jesus who is the messiah, the savior of the world, and the lord of all. We can treat the disciples as supporting characters, usually the fall guys or comedic relief to Jesus’ starring role. However, when we read the gospels with the disciples in mind, we really see that is not the view that Jesus had. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus investing in the disciples, we see Jesus taking extra time with the twelve, and we see Jesus’ deep care for them. The times in the gospels we see Jesus get frustrated or annoyed with the disciples it is because they fall short of the standard he is trying to hold them to, and it seems often this frustration is born out of the fact that Jesus truly believe the disciples are capable of so much more than they themselves believe. Jesus can be hard on the disciples because he believe in them. Jesus believes that the disciples can have the kind of faith that allows them to walk on water, to multiply bread, and to move mountains. When Jesus told the disciples “You give them something to eat”, it was because Jesus legitimately thought the disciples could pull off the same miracle that he ended up doing. The disciples completely missed the shot they did not take, and unfortunately that still happens today.
The original twelve were invited by Jesus to follow him, to share the good news of God’s kingdom, and to transform the world. The disciples of Jesus are still extended a similar invitation. Jesus believed that his disciples, through faith, could do the impossible. That is still the case today, but like the original twelve we often miss the shots we do not take. In this morning’s scripture Jesus challenged his disciples to do something miraculous, but that is not what they did. They focused on the impossible instead of on how God can make it possible. Again, this likely feels familiar to us. We often limit what God can do through us because we do not believe God’s dreams are truly possible. We settle for what we can do, we look for practical solutions instead of ones that require us stepping in faith to believe that God can provide. We are like the original disciples and we only see five loaves of bread that will not go very far instead of seeing how God can multiply what we have to meet the needs of thousands. Our mindset is stuck in one of scarcity instead of believing in the multiplying abundance of God.
This morning’s scripture contains an example of miraculous multiplication. Jesus wanted his disciples to be the ones who facilitated this multiplication, and that kind of multiplication still happens today. A good example of this is Millard Fuller. In the 1960’s Fuller was seeking to live out his faith in Georgia. Fuller strongly believed that everyone deserved to have a roof over their head. He noticed that in in his small community many of the poorest residents struggled with adequate housing, so he and some friends began to work side by side with the poor residents of the area to build houses. That alone was, no doubt, a large undertaking but Fuller took a step in faith and trusted that God could use him to help meet a greater need. The scope quickly broadened to neighboring communities and then beyond that until Millard Fuller’s dream to provide housing for his poor neighbors evolved into Habitat for Humanity. Today, Habitat for Humanity has helped almost 30 million people build or improve the place they call home. From helping on one house as an act of Christian service, God was able to multiply that to miraculous proportions.
In this morning’s scripture the crowds needed something to eat. Jesus said “You give them something to eat”, but the disciples did not take the shot. Millard Fuller identified a need in his community that people need someplace to live. Jesus said, “you give them someplace to live”, he did and God changed the world through him. More often than not we take the path of the original disciples and not the path of disciples like Millard Fuller. We miss 100% of the shots we do not take, so may we start taking more shots. May we be willing to take steps in faith and trust that through the power of God the father, the leadership of Jesus the son, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit we can do the miraculous. May we believe that if God is able to multiple five loaves of bread to feed thousands, then God multiply our dreams in the same fashion. May you not waste your shot by dropping the ball. If you have felt God’s call in your life to respond to Jesus’ invite to follow him, and then I am convince that God can use you to change the world. So friends, it is time to take a shot. May we all be so faithful and bold.