Now we broach an account that is not only recorded in Luke, and not only in the three synoptics, this is the only miracle (save the ressurection) which is recorded in all four gospels. Apparently this miracle struck a cord with the early church; it diffused into their art (that is, the loaves and fish). There was something human with this miracle that connected with the people of the time. Some have suggested that it was a “farewell to fellowship” meal, in which Jesus is communicating to the Galileans that his time is short in the region and he must move toward Jerusalem. Others say it was an anticipatory symbol of the Messianic banquet, that is the feast of Messiah with his people.
Recently, this miracle has come under great scrutiny and not just from outside pressure; even among our own number, some have tried to explain away this miracle with human reasoning. Some have said that the display of the disciples to give up their own food stimulated the people and guilted them into producing the food they had secretly, hence, producing more than enough food. Thus, the miracle took place in the hearts of the people, not in Jesus really producing enough food for 5000 people. I mean c’mon, not even the Son of God could do that, right? Well, yes can and he did. That is what the four gospel writers unanimously agree upon – this was actual, factual history, a real historical account of what Jesus did. And Luke, a first rate historian bar none, records this event for us in 9.10ff.
Luke tells us that sometime after Jesus had sent out the Twelve, they returned to report everything they had done. The Greek says that they told the narrative to its completion, implying Jesus sat and listened to every word of it. He was interested in what his disciples had done. Imagine, put yourself in their shoes, and you get to tell Jesus all you have been on the mission he has sent you on…and he listens to every word. I suppose Jesus knew the toll such a mission would have taken on the disciples, so he intends to withdraw with them for some rest and relaxation.
However, the multitudes have different plans. They hear where Jesus is and go to him. Jesus does not drive them away, saying “my disciples need rest, come back some other time.” The text says he welcomed them. He embraced them and spoke the word of God unto them. He spoke about the kingdom of God and healed their sick. The success of one mission leads to Jesus furthering their success.
The day draws on and the vening approaches. The crowds are still there. Jesus is still teaching (it would seem). And the disciples are getting worried. The are in a “remote place” where the multitudes cannot find food. It is time for action. The Twelve come to Jesus and ask him to send the crowds. Where the disciples really concerned about the people? Or where they just tired of being around people? After all, this is supposed to be rest time. Maybe a combo of both. Maybe neither. Whatever the attitude, we know Jesus commands them, “You (emphatic) give them something to eat.”
With what, Jesus? There is no food out in this remote place. All we have are five loaves (John tells us they were barley loaves, the bread of the poor) and two fish (John also tells us they were small). Basically, all they have are some crackers and fish paste to use like jelly. This points to the scarcity of the food available. The disciples are making it obvious that they have nothing. In fact, they couldn’t even buy food for the multitude, they ae just too many. 5000 men alone…not to mention women and children. Some commentators say the crowd could have been upwards to 15,000, and that is entirely possible. It is silly to think, in the disciples mind, that we can provide for all these people. The numbers do not add up.
Jesus begins giving instructions about the seating arrangement of the people (groups of fifty). The disciples obey the order. Then Jesus takes the bread and fish, and “offers the blessing” (NEB). One commentator says it was probably the Jewish blessing which something like this: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the World, who brings forth bread from the earth.” When that is finished, Jesus begins the distribution process. We don’t know what it looked like when Jesus broke off a peice of the bread and handed it to the disciples. Did it miraculous grow back or form on the loaf? Who knows. What I would have wanted to see is the look on the faces of the disciples as they passed out the food which so recently had been so scant.
Everyone eats their fill, no one goes away hungry. The mathematical problem is solved by the greatest mathematician every. the loaves were multiplied so all could eat. This is nothing short of the divine hand of God working a miracle for mankind. Not only does everyone go away full, but the disciples also take up a collection of the left over peices, each getting a full basket.
We walk away from this account with the fact that Jesus is able to take the scarcity of what we have, be it financial, numerical, spiritual, whatever, and turn it into something that can impact thousands. Just because the one talent man only had one talent did not let him off the hook; he still could have done much if he had done just something. Whether we are in a small congregation or large, God can still use our efforts and bless them to do great things in the kingdom. Whether we give much on Sunday during the collection or only a few “mites,” God can take those things and produce a great harvest ripe for the reaping.
With Jesus math, the numbers do not add up. I suppose there was more than one person who walked away from that evening meal scratching their head wondering, “Where did he get all that bread and fish?” “Where did those twelve baskets come from?” “How did he do that?” It does not make sense that 5000 people were fed on five loaves and two small fish. The numbers do not make sense and yet with Jesus, the unique Son of God, he does it. God steps into human history to make the impossible possible; he works a miracle. “With God all things (even feeding five thousand men) are possible.”