Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Matthew 14:13–21

Matthew 14:13–21 (ESV) : Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Synopsis

After hearing about the beheading of John the Baptist—or maybe just hearing that Herod thought Jesus was John raised from the dead?—Jesus withdraws to a “desolate place” by himself. (Actually, although the passage says he’s by himself, for some reason I assume the disciples are with him. I’m taking “by himself” to simply mean “away from the crowds.” However, I have absolutely no reason for this assumption and might very well be wrong.) I’m guessing that Jesus wants this isolation in order to devote himself to prayer, but if that’s the case he doesn’t get much of a chance because the crowds find out where he’s gone they follow him there. Rather than get annoyed or put out, however, he has compassion on them and heals their sick.

In the evening the disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can get something to eat. They are, after all, in a desolate place, so the crowds will probably have to travel a long way to find food. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd, to which they reply that they only have five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus asks for the food, has the crowd sit down, prays over it, and breaks the bread and has the disciples distribute it to the crowd, who eat to their satisfaction. Not only this, but they end up with twelve baskets of food left over!

Thoughts

This passage is almost invariably always called “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand,” but verse 21 (ESV) tells us that there were actually 5,000 men plus women and children—which means that it was way more than 5,000 people once you factor in everyone. (Remember that the passage headings are not actually part of the text of the Bible; they are added in by the publishers of various versions of the Bible.)

This is one of the few stories that occurs in all four of the Gospels; you can read the other accounts in Mark 6:30–44 (ESV) , Luke 9:10–17 (ESV) , and John 6:1–13 (ESV) . Most commentaries on the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children) will point that out, so I figure I have to follow the rules and do the same. For those of you who are new to the Bible, I should point out that there are actually two mass feedings: this feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children) as well as another feeding of 4,000 (plus women and children) which takes place after this one. I mention this because it caused me some confusion when I started reading the Bible, so it might cause confusion for others, too.

Many people will point out that Jesus feeding the 5,000 (plus women and children) is reminiscent of God feeding the Israelites in the desert with the manna, which is a fair comparison. It is, after all, the same God physically feeding His people in both instances. He chooses a slightly different way of going about it in this case, but I think part of the point of this miracle is to remind the Jews of the manna, and have them seeing Jesus feeding them in the same light that they saw God feeding their ancestors.

Of course the real Bread of Life is Jesus himself, not physical bread made out of wheat. However, the people of Jesus’ day did not understand that, which is made very clear when you read the account of this story in the Gospel of John; shortly after John recounts the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children) in 6:1–13 (ESV) , he then recounts the crowd coming to Jesus the next day looking for more bread, in 6:22–59 (ESV) . Then, in verses 60–71 (ESV) we are told that this teaching is so hard that many of his disciples leave him.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I won’t be getting to John 6 for… well, years and years, at the rate I’m going through the Bible.

When Jesus ends up with twelve baskets of leftovers after the miracle, it almost seems like showing off. I don’t mean that to be blasphemous, I just mean that it almost seems like Jesus is going out of his way to show that he didn’t just fool the people into thinking that they were full, he really did miraculously multiply the bread and fish, and the proof of it is that he ended up with way more than what he’d started with. I’m sure there were skeptics in Jesus’ day, just as there are now, saying things like, “He didn’t really heal that guy, the guy just fooled himself into believing it; he didn’t really feed those people, they just fooled themselves into not feeling hungry anymore.” I don’t know if that’s why there was so much food left over after this miracle or not.

Although it doesn’t seem like a core part of the story, this passage starts out with Jesus going off by himself, presumably to pray. But then when the crowds appear he goes back to work because of his compassion for them. This tells us a couple of things:
  • The Father is in control, and He decides what we do and when we do it. Even when it comes to something as obviously good and right as praying to Him, He may occasionally have other things for us to do that will get in the way of our plans, and we have to remember that He is in control, not us. Jesus understood this perfectly, and was always willing to do the Father’s bidding, and we should be too. (All the more since I’d be willing to wager that usually when God interrupts our plans it’s not praying that He is interrupting, it’s something much more selfish.)
    • In fact, God is so in control that even the desolate place Jesus had chosen to pray was used to bring about this miracle; the crowds needed to be fed because where they were precluded them from getting food in a more natural way.
  • Regardless of the fact that the Father had something else for Jesus to do rather than praying in this instance, the fact remains that Jesus was committed to prayer, and I think it’s safe to say that he was able to get some praying done before the crowds found him in that desolate place. If Jesus—God in the flesh—was committed to prayer, than how can we feel that we don’t need to pray?
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