Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. It is a story that is familiar to most Christians, as Jesus took five loaves and two fish and fed more than five thousand people. Each Gospel writer tells the story from a different angle (Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6) to emphasize different points. In the account in Matthew 14, He emphasizes its impact on the disciples. This also directly impacts believers today. We will mention the ways but first let’s review the miracle.
Jesus is grieving the loss of His cousin, John the Baptist. He gets in a boat to slip away to a remote place for alone time. The crowd, though, figures out where Jesus is and goes to Him. They show up in the thousands. They have needs and instead of being upset that His alone time is no more, Jesus feels compassion for them. What does He do? He rolls up His sleeves and works His way through the crowd, healing again and again and again. I would think the disciples are with Him, helping organize the people.
The day grows long, and the disciples tell Jesus to send the people away so they can get something to eat. This sounds reasonable because what other option is there? The answer is “the impossible.” Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd. Imagine the looks on their mugs! But they go through their “human” options.
1. They only have five loaves of bread and two fish – the John account says this came from a small boy. If the people brought any food with them, it was all gone by the end of the day. Bottom line: no food. 2. They have no money to buy food at any nearby towns and villages. In the John account Philip does the math and says it would cost about 200 denari per person, which is a lot of money for the average worker. Bottom line: no money. 3. They don’t have the time. The sun will be setting soon. No food. No money. No time.
So, the disciples fail the test. They did not see how this could be accomplished. Jesus did and in the John account you get some “inside baseball” about this. Jesus told them to do what everybody knew was impossible in order to test them, “for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.” Of course He did; He is God! Now, the bread back then were flat pieces of cracker-like barley bread. The fish was like a dried, cured sardine the size of your open hand. Jesus then moves ahead and blesses this small little “Happy Meal.” When praying, the normal posture was to lift your eyes up to heaven as you prayed. Jesus blessed the food and broke the bread. The typical Jewish blessing at the beginning of a meal was brief: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the world, who hast brought forth bread from the earth.” Think about it: As Jesus prays, this the crowd closest to them surely thought Jesus and His disciples were going to have their own meal together. And that is what it looked like to start with. Jesus broke the bread and divided the fish, then gave it to the disciples who then gave to the people who were seated in groups of 50 and 100. It says the entire crowd ate until they “were satisfied,” or full. How many people? Matthew tells us there were 5,000 men. If you add women, then maybe 10,000. If you add children at two per couple, now the total could easily be 15,000. And that’s not all. Matthew mentions that they picked up what was left over of the food and gathered 12 full baskets. So, not only did Jesus provide what was needed – this miracle produced an overabundance.
Now the Matthew account focused on the impact this had on His disciples. What did they learn and what can we learn, also? The disciples saw Jesus’ compassion. Even though Jesus went away to be alone, the crowd finds Him. Notice what He didn’t do: He didn’t send them back home. He was moved with compassion. We simply need to exemplify Christ by being compassionate to others, especially when we don’t feel like being compassionate.
The disciples learned that Jesus meets needs through them (and us). Jesus fed the people through His disciples. He could have snapped His fingers and caused everyone to have a meal. He didn’t. Why? He wanted the disciples to fully trust Him for everything they distributed. They could only give as they received. Today, this is still in effect. God uses people who fully trust in Him. We need to fully put our faith in Him, even when the situation seems overwhelming. We believers need to be reminded that our problems are never too large for God to handle.
Finally, Jesus calls His disciples, and us, to do the serving. Jesus did not give out a single piece of bread or fish. He gave it to the disciples, and they distributed it. What does this mean? It means disciples of Christ are an extension of His mercy and His power. Jesus is there to meet the deepest physical and spiritual needs, AND to use you and I with all His resources to meet others’ needs.
And just a thought: think how the disciples were blessed by being involved in this miracle. It’s hard to grasp how amazing and uplifting this was to them. Think how you have felt when the Lord has used you to help or serve others. It’s such a fulfilling and satisfying feeling. May He use us for the good of others and give Him all glory.