“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
Part of Jesus’ training of His disciples involved sending them out on their own into neighboring towns, giving them power to heal the sick and cast out demons. The first such mission coincided with King Herod’s execution of John the Baptist. When the disciples came back from their mission, they were exhausted, and Jesus was grieving the loss of his friend. He brought the disciples out to the wilderness, where they could all have some peace away from the crowds.
But when they arrived at their destination, they found the crowds already gathered. Jesus had come out there for the express purpose of being alone. He and His disciples both needed to rest. But instead of sending the people away, Jesus had compassion on them and began to teach them. He did this for the entire day, until at last at evening the disciples came to Him and brought up the matter of food. Jesus had a surprising instruction for them: “‘You give them something to eat’” (6:37). Eventually, they gathered five loaves of bread and two small fish and brought these to Jesus. Jesus blessed it and distributed it to the thousands of people who were gathered. There were even twelve baskets full of food left over.
Jesus didn’t have to do anything for these people. From our selfish perspective, they were invading His privacy and breaking into His need for rest. But Jesus hadn’t come into the world to take care of Himself. He had come for the people. Whenever there was a choice between Himself and others, He chose others. In this case, He taught them for hours and then miraculously fed them. After they were gone, He did go off by Himself to pray. But first, He attended to the needs of the people. Their needs always came before His own.