This narrative has always struck me as a picture of what ministry can look like. It never ends. Even when you've been out ministering and working for the kingdom, when you attempt to find rest (even when Jesus calls you out to rest) the people are still in need. Second, it again demonstrates Jesus's miraculous power over the physical world. We've seen much from Mark about Jesus's authority over the elements of the curse. Hunger perhaps is a piece of that. In the garden of Eden, we see that God gives the original couple food for their use. There was no want. The curse removes that provision by declaring food now comes as the result of hard work over broken ground. So perhaps it is continued demonstration of Jesus as the Great Curse Reverser.
However, one of the things we observed today about this passage is the parallels in the prophets regarding what Jesus sees in the wandering people and what he does in response.
Moses asks God for a shepherd for the people in Numbers.
...Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, 16 “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”
-- Num 27:15–17
So here we find the divine design for his people: The people need leadership.
And Ezekiel in particular describes how the leaders of the nation failed to follow this design.
The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6 they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
-- Ezek 34:1–16
This is literally what Jesus corrects. He commands them to sit down on the ground and he feeds them!
What strikes me about Jesus observation of the people is his seeing them as this lost flock ("...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"). These people are so hungry for authoritative teaching and leadership that they would follow him into the wilderness at great speed with no thought for food. These people are desperate for a shepherd. They have been starved, even plundered, by those who were supposed to be providing for them. They didn't come out to this place necessarily for food, and yet they found it, both in Jesus's teaching, but also in his physical provision for them. Later we see this feeding becomes an object lesson in how Jesus desires to feed them, not with food, but with himself. But those are thoughts for another time...