Feeding 5000 — Matthew 14:16–21

The withdrawal of the King — part 5

40 blogs of Lent — day 7

As far as the miracles of Jesus go this is the big one, the only miracle mentioned in all four Gospel accounts. There has to be something significant about this which goes further than just feeding people. Also there is the question of where the food was increased, was it in the hands of Jesus, or was it in the hands of the disciples as they distributed. There is no answer to this, none of the gospels tells this. Multiplying food is not the reason for the miracle.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, ca. 1545-50
Used under a Creative commons licence

16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:16-21 ESV UK

The generosity of God

Matthew always ties his stories to the Old Testament; he does this on this occasion by reminding his readers (his original readers would have been Jewish Christians) that this was a desolate place. The readers would, if they knew their history, have been reminded of Moses praying to God for food and God providing manna in the desert. Another miracle in the Old testament involving food was when a widow had only a little flour and oil left, Elijah promised that ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’ 1 Kings 17:14.

To understand what is happening in the feeding of the 5000 we need to look at both the similarities and differences in the stories. The similarities as obvious, God gives food in the desert is one and with Elijah, a small amount of food is increased many times over.

The difference, and it really is a big difference, is in magnitude. Manna fell in the desert enough for a day, if any was kept over it went off. Manna was boring food, the people complained about it. But it was enough and it nourished the people who had to put up with it, and quails while they were in the desert rather than the land flowing with milk and honey in the land they were promised. The flour and water in the widow’s house were only just adequate, it ran out on the day the drought ended.

In contrast the feeding of the 5000 was more than adequate. Not only was the food enough to feed 5000 men, plus women and children, but they were satisfied and 12 hand baskets of scraps were left over as well. 12 is a significant number, 12 was the number of the tribes of Israel and also the number of disciple Jesus chose to lead his people, it points to God’s overwhelming care for his people.

But this passage links forward as well. Jesus broke the bread. The significance of this act would have been known to the Gospel writers as what Jesus did at a meal on the night before he died. Jesus took bread gave tanks to God and broke it, saying ‘this is my body.’ The feeding of the 5000 points forward to Jesus giving himself for his people.

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