It is good these passages are read together on a Sunday. They belong together, even if at first it appears to be two separate stories. Certainly Mark put these stories back to back in his telling because he saw the connection. We should, too.
First, Jesus feeds the 5000. When it starts to get late, the disciples suggest he send the people away so they can buy food and eat, but Jesus responds to them with one of my favorite words in the Bible.
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They immediately start to count the cost and I imagine Jesus sighed. What have you got? he asked. A few loaves and two fishes, they answered. Okay, give them what you’ve got. Just start with what you have. Just give what you’ve got, and don’t hold back. Trust God.
The 5000 were fed and satisfied, and they picked up more in leftovers than they started with, but apparently this was a hard lesson because in the water walking story that follows, we read this:
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
What was so hard to understand?
The last time they were in the boat, Jesus stilled the storm and they were amazed and asked, “Who is this that the wind and waves obeyed him?” I feel that was the stumbling block.
You see, he satisfied the hunger of 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Then he went off alone to pray (very important). Then he walked on the water and the disciples freaked out when they saw him, so he climbed into the boat and told them not to be afraid and the contrary wind died down. You might also note that after they arrived back on land everyone who touched so much as the hem of his garment was healed. But here I have two thoughts.
The first is frivolous, but I imagine Jesus wanted to get to the other side of the lake ahead of the boat of disciples so when they arrived he could jump out and shout, “Ta Da!” Or do you think Jesus never had any fun?
The second is more serious, and it has to do with the crux of the gospel witness. I eel for most of the gospels (including Matthew, Luke and John) the disciples were asking the wrong question. They were asking how is Jesus doing these things? What is Jesus doing now? What will he do next? These are the kind of questions that keep people looking in the wrong direction to this very day. What they should have asked instead is what they asked when Jesus stilled the storm. “Who is this guy?”
It took Peter a long time to figure out that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. As we read elsewhere (translating from King James back to the original text) “Jesus is God to the glory of the Father.”
To this day, people get hung up on reading the gospels and asking the same questions the disciples asked. What does God want? What does God intend for my life, for us all? What does God expect from his disciples? Instead, try asking, Who is God?
And we can see from these little stories a great deal about who God is.
God will provide, and more. God will use our gifts, however small they may seem to us, and work miracles. Imagine if everyone gave all they had to God to use according to his purposes.
Our lives are full of storms and contrary winds, but God will still it all if we remain with God the Son. Too many forget Jesus and too regularly during the week. They think he is a ghost. They think he is a great teacher, but… They think he is a prophet or a miracle worker, but… No. Jesus is God. Stay close to him. Face the storms and contrary winds dead on. Trust him. Do we have no faith?
God heals. That is the center of the good news. We live broken, sin-filled lives in this broken world, but God heals, and in every way. We need only to come to him, to touch just the hem of his garment to be healed. But can you come to him without knowing first who he is? Not really, no. The disciples were amazed and terrified by What Jesus was doing, but only because their hearts were too hard (too hung up on this world) to understand Who Jesus is.
Believe in Jesus. Trust Him. Draw near to God that he may draw near to you. What does God expect? Only that we love him, and our neighbor as ourselves, which means we don’t hold back with our loaves and fishes. We give the people something to eat and let God do the miracle.