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Tony's Reflection 67
What do you reckon is the world’s most repeated TV programme?
According to the record books, it’s not one of the classics like M*A*S*H or Friends, or even Baywatch.
It’s a short comedy sketch, by a couple of unknowns, British comedian Freddie Frinton and 72-year-old actress May Warden. Originally written in the 1920s, it first featured in seaside shows. Then in 1962, it was filmed for German TV under the title “The 90th Birthday” or “Dinner for One”. It’s been broadcast in countries across the world as a Christmas and New Year’s Eve tradition ever since.
What are you like when you see a repeat on TV? Do you laugh at the same gags over again and enjoy the same tensions, even though you know what’s coming?
Our episode from Mark today (
) will feel like a repeat. A big crowd. Hungry people. Nothing to eat. Food out of thin air. Does it sound familiar? Jesus has done all this before.
Mark must have a reason for giving us a “repeat”. But what is it? Unfortunately he doesn’t tell us. Perhaps the first time round it was all so mind-boggling, this is Mark’s way of saying to us, “Yes, it’s true – Jesus really is this amazing.” We’re left to guess why we’ve got an apparent “repeat performance”, but let’s settle into the story, enjoy it together… and notice some of the big differences, this time round.
We start off with another huge crowd. This time it’s about 4000 men. They have been listening to Jesus teach, not just for hours, but for days. Three whole days to be exact.
People get fidgety if I talk for much more than 20 minutes on a Sunday morning. These people have been with Jesus, for three full days. Just listening to him teach. There’s no mention of any miracles either, to provide light relief and keep the crowd “entertained”.
The days have melted into nights. Jesus stopped teaching only when it was dark and he was physically exhausted. They’ve slept out under the stars twice, just to stay there with him. Nobody brought camping gear, they just wrapped themselves in their cloaks. After an improvised breakfast, they’ve come together again, eager to hear more.
Jesus is such an amazing teacher, all they want to do is to listen to him. Nobody cares about the cold at night, or even notices that the food is at an end.
In fact, it’s Jesus himself who’s the first one to spot the problem. “I have compassion on these people… They’ve been with me three days and the food has run out!”
Jesus was like that. He spotted a need and he cared. This wasn’t just Jesus feeling sympathy. The word for “compassion” is really strong – quite literally, it means “a gut wrenching”. The kind of emotion that you feel intensely, deep down inside.
The disciples just look at each other. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no food out here.”
No fast food joint in sight. They did have one fast food producer with them, though. Not so long ago, Jesus had brought loaves and fishes out of nowhere. Enough to feed 5000 people.
Jesus is waiting for one of them to ask him to do something about the food running out, just like he’d done last time. Nobody even thinks to ask him, though. It’s just as though that last miracle had never even happened.
Jesus takes count of what they have in stock. Seven loaves and a few small fishes. Yes, this is an impossible job, once more. How do you make that little stretch out among a crowd of thousands? This time, though, none of the disciples asks him what good that tiny amount of food will be for so many people. Perhaps by now they know what is coming…
Once again, Jesus makes food appear out of nothing. Again, the crowd is fed. Again, more leftovers than what they started with. Seven baskets’ full. Each basket big enough to carry a person. This is utterly spectacular.
Mark then says Jesus got in the boat and went. Not even a crowd reaction reported, this time. It seems Mark’s attention is elsewhere for this story.
Are we slow on the uptake, appreciating Jesus? Maybe he’s done something for us in the past. He’s showed his love. He’s showed his power. Does that make us confident enough to turn to him again? It didn’t work that way for the disciples. They needed spoon feeding. Do you?
There’s another, much bigger point Mark makes through this repeat story. When Jesus fed the 5000, he was in Jewish territory. This miracle, though, took place in non-Jewish land.
We’ve seen Jesus’ track record with non-Jews. Earlier on, Justa, the non-Jew, had begged for just a few crumbs, from the meal meant for Jews.
Now we see not just one non-Jew, but well over 4000 of them getting not just a few leftovers, but an absolute feast. So much that the remains alone filled seven baskets.
Jesus doesn’t just give scraps to the non-Jews. He’s astoundingly generous to them. Just like he was to the 5000 Jewish men he had miraculously fed, earlier.
Religious… nonreligious. Insider… outsider. Churchgoer… non-churchgoer. Jesus doesn’t care. These aren’t the labels he sees.
He sees need, though. And when he does, he responds. With the same compassion, the same power and the same generosity, to all comers.
Do you feel like an “insider” or an “outsider” to Jesus?
To him it doesn’t matter.