Set Before: An Unearned Meal

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:1–2, ESV)

There are a couple of things that strike me about this story from the life of Jesus: [aside from the fact that it reads almost exactly like the story of the feeding of the 5000 and there is a reason for that]

  1. Jesus knows the needs of the crowd without the crowd telling him their need. This is significant.  He was the teacher/healer and could easily have never noticed that the crowd had been following him for three days and everyone had run out of food. [though they stayed to hear him which gives some example of the power of his message]  However, this is not the God whom we serve.  God-incarnate had compassion and noticed needs and acted to meet those needs.
  2. Jesus took the initiative to meet the needs of the crowd. Not only does Jesus notice their need, he takes the initiative to meet them.  The interaction with his disciples, exactly like when he fed the 5,000, is funny on one level.  The disciples are clueless.  The Message paraphrases the disciples’ response this way:“His disciples responded, “What do you expect us to do about it? Buy food out here in the desert?”” (Mark 8:4, The Message)

    He didn’t expect them to do anything about it, because he was going to do something about it.

  3. Jesus meets the needs of the crowds without requiring anything from them. Jesus takes the seven loaves and the few small fish and he blesses them and then he begins to break the bread and fish into small pieces and hands them to the disciples to give to the people.  He keeps on giving the bread and fish [the Greek verb tense is continuous action] to the disciples who keep setting them before the crowd.

    I wonder if the verb which the ESV translates “set before” is important.  Mark repeats the exact same verb three times in a couple of sentences.  It’s funny because the word is so unimportant [it means: “to set before” or “to place near someone”] that it isn’t even in the major lexicons where they do in depth study of specific, important Greek words.  It’s a common, simple, easily understood word.  Could it be that Mark wants to emphasize here that the crowd doesn’t do anything to earn this gift from Jesus?  They do not tell him they are hungry, they [or most of them anyway] do not contribute any food towards the meal that Jesus will serve.  Indeed, they just sit down and the meal is set before them.

    Is this not the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy?““Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1, ESV)



The Kingdom of God is introduced by God the Son in the Gospels.  Here we discover that this Kingdom doesn’t require anything from those who would enter.  Everything is given away freely without regard to race, tribe, tongue, nation, or gender.  This meal is a type of the salvation to come in Jesus.  Paul expresses the ultimate free gift in this way:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV)


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