PassageIn the previous passage Jesus sent the twelve Apostles to preach the gospel, giving them authority over demons and the power to heal. In this passage they return and report back to Jesus, whereupon he brings them off to a town called Bethsaida. Verse 10 (ESV) says that he “took them and withdrew apart,” hinting that what Jesus really wants is some time alone with the twelve, but it’s not to be, because the crowd figures it out and follows them there, whereupon he continues the same mission he’d sent the Apostles on: he welcomes them, preaches the gospel to them, and cures those who need healing.
I rarely use the word “whereupon,” but for some reason I managed to finagle it into the previous paragraph twice. Bad writing.
As the day begins to wane, the Apostles start to get worried about the crowd, since there are about 5,000 men (plus women and children), and they’re in a desolate place (verse 12 (ESV)). So they ask Jesus to send them away into the surrounding area to find food and lodging. His response, however, is somewhat surprising: “You give them something to eat” (verse 13 (ESV), emphasis added). Their response to Jesus’ response is quite understandable: They’ve only got five loaves of bread and two fish; unless Jesus is suggesting that they go and buy food for all of these people—which, I’d point out, would be logistically difficult, even if they had sufficient funds—it doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to feed too many of them.
Jesus instructs them to have the crowd sit down in groups of 50, and then he says a blessing over the five loaves and two fish that the Apostles had. He then distributes the food to the entire crowd—who eats and is satisfied—before twelve baskets of leftovers are picked up after.
ThoughtsAs with every other story in Jesus’ life, his patience and willingness to serve the Father—regardless of his own plans—stands as an example to us in this story. He goes out of his way to bring the Apostles somewhere where they can be alone, I assume with some intent to spend some time teaching them something without the crowds interfering, yet the crowds immediately show up anyway. And his response? He welcomes them. It’s not spelled out for us explicitly in the passage, but he seems to assume that if it’s the Father’s will for these people to be there, then it’s also the Father’s will for Jesus to minister to them. And not just grudgingly; there’s a reason I keep quoting verse 11 (ESV) and saying that “he welcomed them,” because there’s an implication there that Jesus is happy to do this.
Of course, there’s also the fact that Jesus could very well have known that he was about to demonstrate his power by feeding all of these people with this famous miracle. Because Jesus was fully God and fully man, it’s sometimes difficult to know what he knew, and what was simply him following the Father in faith—as we’re supposed to do.
Having heard this story so many times, it’s easy for us to judge the Apostles for not immediately jumping in and feeding the crowd, as Jesus had instructed them to. And, unless he’s toying with them, he seems to think that they should be able to feed the crowd, since he instructs them to do so. However, despite this, I have sympathy for the disciples in this instance. The miracle Jesus performs here is unparalleled in history—other than the manna provided by God to the Israelites, as they wandered in the desert. Of which this is a direct parallel. Nonetheless, I don’t blame the Apostles for having no idea how to proceed, when Jesus instructs them to feed all of these people.
I have less sympathy for them when it comes to the feeding of the four thousand—a separate event, which comes after this one—since they should have known better the second time around. The first time, however, I have sympathy for their confusion.