After the incident with the Canaanite woman, Jesus moves back the shore, and the crowd follows. He has just come back from Gentile territory, and the crowd from there is still following; this is important for us to keep in mind, for it is a predominantly Gentile crowd. Although Matthew uses language similar to that of the feeding of the five thousand, this is a different scene, a different feeding.
Pharisees don’t appeal to Gentiles, they don’t eat with Gentiles, they want nothing to do with Gentiles, and you will no doubt remember that in this section, Jesus is teaching the disciples about His identity and purpose, and in this chapter, He is demonstrating the difference between the toxic teachings of the Pharisees, and the inclusive teachings of Jesus.
The people bring everyone who needs healing of whatever kind to Jesus’ feet, and having compassion for them, Jesus heals the lot of them. Now the Pharisees were righteous men; just ask them, and they’ll tell you. They are motivated by the written code of the Law, and by their traditions; what do you suppose a Pharisee would do in Jesus’ place have compassion for a crowd of Gentiles?
Not likely. It would be more likely for them to tell the crowd that these people are afflicted because they aren’t Jews. But that was not how Jesus used His authority from the Father; He had compassion and healed every last one. I wonder what the disciples thought about all of this…
Jesus, noting that these people had been following Him for days now, thought that maybe they should have a meal so that they wouldn’t collapse from a lack of food…
To make a long story short, He saw to it that they had enough to eat before they headed back to their homes.
Remember back to the way this chapter began: The Pharisees accosted Jesus about the fact that His disciples weren’t following their tradition of hand washing before meals. Remember also that Jesus wouldn’t have any of their hypocritical nonsense; He shut them up, speaking a tad harshly about their traditions. Then He took the disciples to Gentile territory and blew up several more of the traditions and customs of the Jewish religious elite.
He didn’t do any of this to be rebel, He did it to educate his disciples about the Kingdom, His purpose, God’s purpose, and the fact that God was not pleased with the empty forms of the religious elite, for they had ceased to follow God long ago, and the disciples needed to understand that they, and not the Pharisees, were the ones who would one day show the world how to follow God’s ways.