The National Catholic Review
Mark 6, 34-56 no 19 Oct 13 The Twelve have returned from preaching repentance and performing miracles to support their trustworthiness. Jesus has asked them to come away to rest – a sign, Mark indicates, which shows the extreme attraction of all that Jesus is. The crowds will not let Jesus and the Twelve rest. Though stories preserved for forty years tend to lose a number of details in their constant retelling, often enough names and places and other small points are remembered. Too, often, and happily for us, Jesus’ emotions are remembered, and here we learn that his heart was moved to pity; particularly in Gospels aimed to show the lordly divinity of Jesus, it would be easy to overlook his human emotions. Mark explains the reason for this pity: the crowds are lost without the teaching, the wisdom of Jesus, of God. And so, Jesus taught them many things. Mark does not specify ’all these things’; on the other hand, by the time his Gospel is finished, he thinks that he has reported enough so that, with what he has said joined to what Mark’s audience had already learned, the Marcan community has the essence of the teaching of Jesus. As so often in Mark, a miracle of Jesus Messiah is introduced by a picture of Jesus ’teaching by the sea’. Here this teaching serves as a help to understand what Jesus now will do for those hungering for his guidance. The importance of this story, together with the subsequent miracle on the Sea of Galilee, can be seen simply in the fact that these two episodes are the only two reported in all four Gospels; many people found them very revealing for Christian life with Jesus. The story of the multiplication of loaves and fish can be told in more than one way, as the Gospels show. Each Gospel tells this story for its own purpose(s). Here Mark is interested not simply in the miracle (often he is concerned with more than just a miracle itself), but in the significance of the miracles for the disciples (who we know from the context are the Twelve). Jesus wants them to feed the crowds; they in turn admit they are helpless before such a suggestion. It is after this admission of helplessness that Mark proceeds to a description of a feeding thought by all to be impossible – 5000 fed by 5 loaves and 2 fish? As usual before meals, the head of the household gives a blessing, and so here Jesus is shown to be the head of this ’household’ as he raises his eyes to heaven and blesses the food. Mark means to emphasize the fact that Jesus gave the food to his Twelve, that this food reached the 5000 through the hands of the Twelve. This emphasis is here to underline the central importance of the Twelve in the handing to others, not bread and fish, but divine wisdom about life. One can see why, after the mission of the Twelve in calling for repentance, there is a miracle interpreted in such wise as to emphasize the relationship of the Twelve to the teaching Jesus gives them for others. As so often, Jesus’ teaching is satisfying. Indeed, the twelve wicker baskets (hardly carried around by the Twelve) symbolize the wisdom the Twelve now possess for the further enrichment and satisfaction of the people everywhere. But because of the language Mark uses (raising eyes...blessing...giving to the disciples) there are deeper undertones here: we think of the Eucharist which is characterized in the Synoptic Gospels and Paul in the manner of a father at a meal giving food to his children. Yes, wisdom is symbolized in Mark’s rendition of multiplication of loaves, but equally so is Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus himself. John Kilgallen, S.J.