A particularly modern American approach to life is to view everything as a problem-solving exercise. The problem is illegal immigration. Building a border wall to force illegal immigrants to instead go over, under, or around is supposed to solve the problem. The problem is too much Destin traffic. Enlarging the roadways so instead there’s more traffic is supposed to solve the problem.
Problem-solving is not exclusive to modern Americans. It was also part of the thinking in Mark chapter 6:30-44.
It recounts how in a deep a compassion for the people who rushed to track him and his disciples down and so interrupt their attempt to get away, Jesus shepherded the multitude by teaching them the Gospel for the well-being of their souls.
Problem was the long time Jesus took to teach the people made the disciples’ nervous for the well-being of the people’s bodies. So that the people listening to Jesus not get trapped in their hunger, having analyzed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the moment and studied the feasibility of the market, the proactive thinking disciples showed true leadership and submitted their two-phased strategic plan: First phase, Jesus was to stop teaching; Second phase, Jesus was to set the people free to go buy for themselves what they were to eat. Problem solved.
Jesus is God and he saw the inevitability of the disciples’ solution. It wouldn’t work. Oh, sure, it’s more than conceivable the people eventually would have found food and been fed. By sending them to the farms and villages round about no one would have starved to death. And that’s what made the disciples’ strategic plan so appealing. It had every human prospect of achieving its goals and objectives and it would have looked incredibly successful!
But Jesus knew the disciples’ solution wouldn’t work just because people eat doesn’t mean they’re being fed. And, more importantly, anything that sends people away from Jesus is not a solution and cannot ever succeed. For everyone away from Jesus starves to death.
So, as human solutions never solve the problem and invariably create more problems, Jesus attempted to lead his disciples to see what he saw. “You give them to eat!”
The text tells us there were 5,000 male adult mouths to feed. Reasonably judging they weren’t all single male adults or fatherless male adults, it’s conceivable the multitude was 10,000 people or more.
There were 12 disciples. Together they had 200 denarii. A denarii was a common laborer’s day’s wage. So let’s just say a day’s wage gets you three meals. That means 200 day’s wages — 200 denarii — equals 600 meals.
To the disciples “You give them to eat!” meant something like 600 meals for over 10,000 people. The sheer scale of human need to human supply was overwhelming. Jesus’ word had to sound foolish. And to take Jesus at his word had to make the disciples feel helpless. What Jesus told them to do was impossible for them to do.
And that is precisely why Jesus gave them his word. When Jesus said, “You give them to eat,” he was moving his disciples to see alone, with their resources, they could never, ever, really solve any problem. He was moving them to see their helplessness. He was moving them to repent.
That’s why Jesus’ solutions often sound foolish, if not offensive, because they don’t depend upon human resource. And we’re offended by that because our human nature is all about depending upon ourselves. As Adam ate of the fruit to be like God our Old Adam wants the glory. Glory comes only by going to work and achieving it. Achieving glory comes only by trusting in our abilities. And when we trust in our abilities we invariably find ourselves away from Jesus. And everyone away from Jesus starves to death.
And so Jesus’ word moves us to repent.
“How many loaves do you have?” And so Jesus had his disciples prepare the people for the impossible that he himself was about to make possible. After prompting his disciples to collect the five bread cakes and two fish on hand and to arrange the people into orderly groups, Jesus “looked up to heaven, spoke a blessing, and broke in pieces the bread cakes.”
In this way Jesus was envisioning the day he would look to heaven, he would be cursed, and he himself would be "broken" not in bone but in body. For Father, Son, and Spirit had determined the divine prospect of success rested with Jesus taking the problem of our sin and becoming the problem in our place. And while dead on a cross would hardly look successful, on that day, on that cross, Jesus would buy with his body and his blood everything anyone will ever need to be filled.
And with his empty tomb three days later, Jesus proved successful.
Jesus used the common to do the uncommon. He used common bread and he used common men to distribute the common bread. In other words, Jesus didn’t depend upon human resource but nevertheless he chose to use it.
And, so, today, he uses common water to baptize for forgiveness, common bread and wine to commune for forgiveness, common men to absolve for forgiveness. And all along and through it all Jesus remains the (unlimited) source and supply of that forgiveness.
So what’s your problem? Whatever it is, you cannot solve it. The good news is Jesus can!
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.