…and the crowds went with Him!
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. (14:13)
When Jesus heard about the brutal murder of John the Baptist in Herod’s jails, He withdraw from the public spotlight, and Matthew begins a new section in his narrative, a section in which Jesus seeks to spend time working with His disciples so that they might come to understand both His identity and His mission.
But the people were loathe to let Him step into the background, and when they heard that He had departed from Nazareth and was headed to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, the word spread quickly, and by the time Jesus and the Twelve arrived, there was a very large crowd waiting for them. Notice in the text that Jesus, who was trying to get away from crowds, took pity on them and healed all who needed healing, rather than either sending them away or moving on Himself.
As it was getting late, and they were in a remote location, the disciples suggest to Jesus that He send them on their way so they would still have time to buy something to eat in the nearby towns, but Jesus had another idea: Why don’t you guys give them something to eat?
Sadly, they only had a few loaves of bread and two fish with them, but Jesus told the crowd to take a seat in the grass and then began to multiply the food on hand, and they ended up feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children. How many people in total were fed with a few loaves of bread and two fish? Although I know of a few scholars who have somehow calculated the “exact” number, I’ll just leave it at 5,000 “plus” and be satisfied that we have a major miracle on our hands.
Oh yes, I almost forgot; they also had 12 baskets of leftovers…
So much has been written about this series of events, so many sermons, lessons… and so much speculation about the circumstances of Jesus’ attempted withdrawal, Herod’s intentions toward Jesus in light of his fear that Jesus was John come back from the dead to get him, not to mention moralizing about the miracle itself. Let’s approach it a little differently…
What is actually in the text?
- It’s getting late in the day, and the people are in a remote place; there isn’t even a McDonald’s nearby.
- The disciples, good men that they are, notice that there might be a problem coming along with the lack of food for this large crowd of people, and suggest that Jesus send them on their way while they can still buy something to eat.
- Jesus, who has withdrawn to “disciple” the disciples, throws the challenge back on the Twelve: You find them something. No problem right? After all, there are only 5,000 plus hungry mouths to feed.
- The disciples attempt to deflect this impossible task by pointing out (accurately) that they only have five loaves of bread and two fish. In their defense, I’m not sure that five loaves of bread and two fish are quite enough to feed 13 grown men after a long journey and a very full day with the crowd. Yet, it would seem they have overlooked something in their human thinking; they were in the presence of the Kingdom of heaven.
- Jesus took care of the rest.
Could it be that Jesus is trying to teach the disciples that in our very rational and reasonable human thinking, we tend to forget that we have more than human potential to help us deal with the challenges we face? It seems worth considering to me.