Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Mark 6: 30-44)

So the way Mark tells it,  the disciples had been out and about for a while, doing the discipling thing; and now they’re reporting back to Jesus on all they had done.  And as Jesus is listening to them, he picks up on something: his disciples are worn out.  They’d been burning the candle at both ends for a while now.  Mark even tells us as much: there was constant coming and going.  They didn’t even have time to eat. 

We know what that’s like, don’t we?  We wake up, roll out of bed – some mornings it’s more like launching out of bed.  We barrel into our day – work, school, appointments, errands, meetings, soccer practice.  Before we know it, it’s 6 in the evening and we haven’t eaten a bite since breakfast.  Our busy-ness has literally made our body forget to sustain itself.

They didn’t have time to eat.

I gotta say, I find it a little comforting that the people so close to Jesus would wind up doing the same kind of stuff we do – cram our schedules full, run from one appointment to the next, cross things off our ever-growing “to-do” list, and forget to put food in our body.  And I find it equally comforting that Jesus would see this, recognize it when no one else did, and call time-out and whisk everyone away for a little weekend retreat.  Because there was constant coming and going.  Because they didn’t have time to eat.

We know what that’s like, don’t we? 

Isn’t it interesting how, in our busiest moments when we are so laser-focused on whatever is demanding our attention, isn’t it interesting how we often fail to see what is right in front of us, what truly deserves our attention?  Up until now, those disciples had failed to see what was right in front of them, what mattered most of all: the people.  The very thing Jesus had sent them out to see in the first place.  The very thing that matters most.

But now, now those disciples are seeing the people.  Hurting and hungry people.  Seeking and searching people.  Most of all, a whole lot of people.  Word was getting around that Jesus was there.  So in that moment, when the disciples were removed from their regular routines and schedules, they could not help but see the people, the needs that each one of them had.

And it’s like a light bulb goes on inside their heads, all at once, when they realize:  Omigosh, the people!  There are so many people out in this deserted place.  And they’re hungry.  They haven’t eaten all day.  They haven’t eaten all day!  You know that’s not good, right, Jesus?  A bunch of hungry people out in the middle of nowhere?  It’s getting late.  It’ll be dark soon.  This is not good. 

So what do the disciples suggest to address this matter?  What is their grand solution?  They tell Jesus to send the people away.  Send them away.  Send the people home to get their own food.  Send them to their neighbor’s house to get theirs.  It’s not our problem, Jesus, they say.  Not our problem.

We know what that’s like, don’t we?  Those moments of clarity when we recognize the problem right in front of us, we know something needs to be done about the problem, and we’re compelled to address it…..…..by placing it squarely in the lap of someone else.  In Jesus’ lap, nonetheless.  It’s Jesus’ job to fix this – not mine.  It’s the pastor’s job to make this right – not me.  I think that falls under someone else’s ministry team – not this one.  I think so-and-so should have that conversation – not us.  Some future generation will need to deal with this mess.  But not ours.  It’s a problem, yes.  But it’s a problem for someone else.

Again, I find it oddly comforting that the disciples, those closest to Jesus, would do the same thing we’d be compelled to do.  The fact that they spent every day of three years with Jesus did not make “super disciples” out of them.  They really weren’t all that different from you and me.

They surveyed the scene that day and saw a mass of needy people, hungry people, out in the middle of nowhere.  Mark uses the specific term “deserted place,” which in the Greek is not all that different from “desert.”  And we know what’s in the desert – a whole bunch of nothing.  That’s what the disciples saw around them, and the absence of it all terrified them.  Not enough.  Not nearly enough.  Send them away, Jesus.

To which Jesus replies – and I love this part – Tell you what, disciples: YOU do it.  You get them some food.  You fix their supper. 

How about that for some delegation?  Jesus, the son of God, who could’ve snapped his almighty fingers and make a five-course meal appear out of nowhere.  Jesus, who just in about every other instance where the people were in need jumps right into the fray to make everything right.  Not here.  In this instance, for whatever reason, Jesus chooses to step aside and let someone else take the reigns.  You give them something to eat.

Why do you think Jesus did this?

We don’t really ask that question, do we?  The miracle that follows kind of overshadows everything; the five thousands whose bellies were all fed.  It’s easy to miss this little detail in the narrative, but we’d be wise not to. 

Why do we think Jesus told his disciples to give them something to eat?

It’s a good question, for sure, but I’m not sure it’s the right question.  I wonder if the better question here might be: what did Jesus see that his disciples did not?

What did Jesus see that his disciples did not?

And I ask that question because of a tiny detail we find in verse 39, one I admit I’ve missed over many years of reading this passage, one brought to light by my good friend and fellow pastor Chris Henry in a sermon he gave at last year’s Montreat Youth Conference.  In case you need a refresher, verse 39 reads:

Then Jesus ordered his disciples to get all the people to sit down on the green grass.

The green grass.

It’s a curious detail Mark throws in, for a couple of reasons.  One, Mark’s gospel is not terribly keen on details.  It’s the shortest of the four and there’s an air of urgency throughout it; so there’s a lot of cutting to the chase, keeping things simple, not getting lost in the weeds, and because of that not a lot of details.

But even more than that, it paints a scene that stands in stark contrast – as in polar opposite – to the scene the disciples have been describing all along; three times, in fact:

The disciples were invited to a desert place.

They got in a boat and went to a desert place.

They came to Jesus and said, this is a desert place, send them away.

And yet when Jesus speaks, he orders his disciples to get all the people to sit down on the green grass.

Now let’s assume for a minute that this is not some weird space/time anomaly; Jesus and the disciples and the thousands transported out of a desert to a place with green grass in it.  We can also rule out that Jesus is asking everyone to sit down on astroturf, which as we know can be set up in any climate (just as David Tepper).  No, this is the same place.  The location hasn’t changed.  What has changed is what is seen, and the fact that Jesus and the disciples are seeing two very different things.

The disciples survey the scene and see scarcity.  Jesus, on the other hand, sees abundance.

The disciples see a problem.  Jesus sees an opportunity.

The disciples want to send the people away. Jesus wants them to stay right where they are.

The disciples see nowhere near enough to feed the people.  Jesus sees more than enough.

The disciples look around and see a desert.  Jesus sees green grass as far as the eye can see.

Beloved, what if abundance – and all that word entails – what if abundance is less about what we have as more about what we see?   What if abundance is simply about bringing whatever you have to Jesus and knowing it’s more than enough?

We know what the disciples eventually bring to Jesus.  We’re not told how they come upon the five loaves of bread and two fish – we assume they go off into the crowd and kind of collect them here and there.  It’s the gospel of John that throws in the detail that they came from some boy in the crowd.  His lunchbox.  That’s how diminutive the disciples thought this find was.  I imagine they were almost embarrassed to even bring it to Jesus.

But the boy wasn’t.  And I’m betting it’s because he, like Jesus, saw all of the green grass.

Now we love to imagine this miracle unfolding in our minds, like some epic scene out of a blockbuster movie.  Jesus taking the five loaves and two fish, breaking the bread, putting it all in baskets and then, in some kind of a magic trick way that would stump the David Copperfields and David Blaines of the world, that kid’s lunchbox multiplying into a feast for thousands.

We love to picture that.  But don’t let your brains do that to you, people.  Don’t get distracted by the shiny object we tend to make out of this story.  This is a miracle; of that there is no doubt.  Just not the miracle we’re thinking of. 

Chris Henry writes in his sermon:

There are two ways of seeing the world, and which one we choose will have a profound impact on how we live and practice our faith. If we employ the lens of scarcity, we’ll always be in the desert. There will never be enough. And so, in fear and anxiety we’ll guard what we have. We’ll see change as a risk and every stranger as a threat. We’ll compete and collide; we’ll form factions and divide. We will convince ourselves that we can’t feed the hungry crowds because there isn’t enough to go around.

But let there be no doubt: Scarcity is a false god, a pernicious idol, a wicked lie that turns us against our neighbors and takes us away from what is holy and good.

Thank God there is another way, Chris goes on.  The lens of abundance tells the truth about who we are and who God is. We are blessed with more than enough to meet the needs of the hungry crowd. We are compelled by the promise of heavenly feasts and overflowing baskets and tables where people come from every direction and all paths to sit and share the goodness of God. If this is how we see the world, and our call, our vision will inevitably be cast beyond what seems possible toward what only God can do.[1]

That is the real miracle of this story, beloved – the miracle of what we choose to see.

And so I ask you: which are you more inclined to see in your life – the desert or the green grass?  When it comes to relationships, to your giving and receiving, to your time, to the work and ministry of this church, to the way you live your life, what do you see?  Are you hindered, held back by a mindset of scarcity – never having enough, always something to protect, always something to hold on to?  How does that mindset define who you are as a child of God living in this world; a world that has fallen hook, line, and sinker for the great big lie?

Or are you empowered by the truth that is abundance?  That we have enough – in fact, more than enough – because we have Jesus helping us see what needs to be seen, and because we have each other to see it with?

Now, to be clear – there are real instances of scarcity all around us.  A child in our world dies of hunger every ten seconds.[2]  20% of the teenagers in our country have thought about suicide at some point.[3]  About half of Americans are facing serious challenges in finding an affordable place to live.[4]  Nearly two-thirds of folks in the US are now living paycheck-to-paycheck.[5]  Over 50% of kids today will fail to outearn their parents.[6]  There is real scarcity out there.

Which is why what we choose to see is so important.  For when we see abundance – when we sit down on the green grass – we can help feed hungry people.  We can advocate for and even help build affordable housing.  We can do our part to make sure people are paid a fair wage.  We can tell our kids and youth over and over again that they are loved and that their lives matter.

We see the green grass all around us, and we see the crowd growing bigger and bigger. Right here.  More people to feed.  More people to share with.  More people to join us in the miracle.

Beloved, may God’s abundance shine forth in us all.  It is there.  May we see it.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!



* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.


[1] Quote from “Bring What You Have,” a sermon by Chris Henry, summer 2022.

[2] https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/people-and-poverty/hunger-and-obesity/how-many-people-die-from-hunger-each-year

[3] https://www.uclahealth.org/news/suicide-rate-highest-among-teens-and-young-adults

[4] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/23/key-facts-about-housing-affordability-in-the-u-s/

[5] https://ir.lendingclub.com/news/news-details/2023/60-of-Americans-Now-Living-Paycheck-to-Paycheck-Down-from-64-a-Month-Ago/default.aspx

[6] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/09/504989751/u-s-kids-far-less-likely-to-out-earn-their-parents-as-inequality-grows