April 8, 2020

Teaching One Another: Feeding the Crowds


We haven’t done much Bible study recently, and I thought today might be a good day to dig in again. Yesterday’s lectionary readings intrigued me, particularly the OT reading and the Gospel. I think they raise some questions, not only of biblical interpretation, but of how we approach the Bible and stories like this.

???? First Testament Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.

???? Gospel Reading: John 6:1-21 (1-15 is below)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

• • •

“The Feeding of the 5000” is one of Jesus’ miracles that invites a lot of thought and discussion.

  • First of all, it is one of those rare miracles that is told in all four Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-15). This fact in and of itself makes it interesting, for comparing and contrasting the different Gospel accounts brings out the theological interests of each Gospel writer.  For example, John is the only one who mentions that Passover was at hand. John also specifies that Jesus initiated a conversation with Philip about how they were going to feed the crowds, and that he did so in order to test him. John also is alone in recording the crowd’s reaction (v. 14), that Jesus perceived they were going to try and make him king by force, and that this was the reason Jesus withdrew to the mountain. Matthew and Mark, by contrast, only say that he went up on the mountain to pray. The other unique thing in John’s Gospel, characteristic of the way he follows events with extended discourses and controversy narratives, is that this story leads into the great “Bread of Life” account later in the chapter. The fact that we can examine this same miracle in all four Gospels brings up questions of why they considered this miracle so important and what lessons they each drew from it for their readers.
  • Jesus feeding the multitude_jpgSecond, it is a miracle that recalls a specific First Testament miracle (2Kings 4:42-44). There is inter-textuality not only between the four Gospels with reference to this miracle, but also with the OT narratives of Elisha the prophet. There must be some tie between the two stories; the parallels between them are nearly identical. Now this certainly raises questions, does it not? What is the relationship between the story of Jesus and that of Elisha? Do the Gospel writers intend that we readers will have the Elisha narratives in mind as a foundation for understanding this miracle Jesus worked? Did they shape their accounts in order to make them parallel to the Elisha miracle and to draw attention to those parallels (and differences)?
  • Third, it is a miracle that also has a parallel in the Gospels themselves (Matthew 15:32-39, Mark 8:1-10). “The Feeding of the Four Thousand” shows up later in Matthew and Mark, and the story follows the same arc. This kind of a “doublet” in the Gospels is a rarity, and has led, as one might imagine, to all kinds of discussion among NT scholars about the possible relationships between the events and their tellings.
  • Fourth, it is a miracle that raises some theological questions, especially with regard to matters like the Eucharist. This discussion usually has focused on how John sets this story at Passover and develops it into the discourse about Jesus, the Bread of Life, and about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. But don’t miss the fact that the Synoptics also contain elements that evoke Eucharistic themes as well. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that Jesus “looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke [the loaves], and gave them to the disciples.” It is not likely that the event itself had anything to do with the Eucharist, but we are talking here about how the Gospel writers chose to tell the story. They all included details which the Church, who read these accounts, would recognize as characteristic of the Eucharistic meals they celebrated. If these stories do evoke the Christian meal gathering, the Church’s worship, what do they tell us about it?
  • Finally, we must not forget to say that this is a wonderful story about Jesus. No matter what interesting biblical or theological issues it raises, it ultimately is designed to tell us about him, to help us encounter him, to experience something of what he came to do for Israel and the world. How does Jesus meet us in this account?

• • •

Well, that’s enough priming the pump for today.

This is a day for “teaching one another.” Let’s talk together about “The Feeding of the 5000.”


  1. Well now you can say I might be pissed off. A man who claims he was so hurt and implies I am a Holy nincompoop along with so many others here who like to spread their hurt all over the place. They multiply it in the same way as the bread and fish. So much so it is something I no longer want. Yet no one comments on this, this late in the day.

    I will testify not teach. There is a place here in the city called City of Refuge. Twice a month they give away items not supplied by food banks and such. Tooth paste, paper items and diapers when they have them, and all done by donations are given away along with a meal. Many times the lines are long and the food seems not enough but the pot never goes empty. Many times the man who started it says it has seemed impossible.

    I walked the mountain and asked the Lord what is it about this story. What is it You would say to me. He showed me a woman in my mind packing a lunch for a little boy with so much love in her heart. He showed me a little boy bouncing around all excited saying I’m going to see Jesus and share my lunch with Him. That is what he showed me inside. I multiply love he said. I looked down on the crowd with love. All my miracles are done in love. I took simple love and multiply it. See how simple the love of the little boy is. This I can work with. Unless you come like this you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. This is my testimony I tell you it is the truth….Amen

    We are His children. Our Father. We are like this little boy innocent of his doings. He so young doesn’t know why. We having come of age know why. This is what the bread and wine have done for us and all that was accomplished afterwards. We have become again like the little boy innocent. You look in the sky and see the magnificent wonders of a God so big. With your great seeing instruments in such a big place do you see your sin. Do you not think He cannot get over the things you have done with such mercy and grace in such a great love for us. I have a big God with the biggest of hearts> I am made like Him. Enlarge our hearts today Lord I ask as I am seeking.


      I stand in awe of who you are
      Mostly I just say wow
      Whether I’m standing near or far
      You’re forever with me now

      Today I see the days gone by
      All those times where I was wrong
      You’re here to share tears I cry
      And bring me to where I belong
      You share with me thoughts on high
      My hearts joy in singing your song

      Many times I’ve wondered away
      You never leave me alone
      When I came to my darkest day
      You entered this heart of stone
      If you don’t mind I have to say
      I’m nothing on my own
      It’s you that lights the way
      And celebrates my coming home

      You drop butterfly wings at my feet
      You make black marks disappear
      You open your arms when we meet
      I tremble when you are near
      You lift victory out of defeat
      And release me from all my fear

      I can leave you down again
      It’s not that I don’t care
      Forgiveness from my best friend
      You treat me more than fair
      I look for you around each bend
      I know you’ll meet me there

      Thru all the places I have been
      You never left my side
      Your love erases all my sin
      In this way you died
      You gently tell me come on in
      I’ll dry those tears you cry

      I stand in awe of who you are
      Mostly I just say wow
      Whether I’m near or standing far
      You’re forever with me now

      So for you who wonder wide
      Who go your way standing alone
      There is a gift deep inside
      And He’s calling you back to home WM

      One of my first poems after a 30 plus year lay off. When he entered my broken heart.

    • Rick Ro. says

      “Many times the lines are long and the food seems not enough but the pot never goes empty. Many times the man who started it says it has seemed impossible.”

      I’ve had similar experiences helping out in our church’s food pantry. One time I remember in particular, as I was the only person running it, and I think close to 30 families came that day. After the 15th or 16th family, I looked at the shelves of the pantry and they were almost bare. I said, “Lord, we don’t have enough for another family.”

      Yet they kept coming. And I kept loading up a grocery bag and handing it out. For another 15 families.

      To be honest, I still don’t know what I witnessed. I mean, when the shelves were empty, yet people kept coming in, and there was just enough to fill another bag…

      • Rick it’s been real I have seen similar things happen and to tell the truth many times I have wondered did that really just take place. It has never seemed to matter whether they did or didn’t where my standing with God has been. In all honesty when I have spoken which is something I rarely do and He has moved through me those are the times I have experienced Him and have known joy. I would never give an oral report in school and failed classes because of it and they weren’t speech classes either. Oh and He has never not done this when I put my foot forward so take that with you. I am glad for your encouragement here.

        Imagine if you will a man dusting the bottoms of his pants and shaking out his shoes. I will dash this comp to pieces if I ever come back here. The w thing the comp did I just left it that. I won’t missed the snarkiness here at all. I have always wondered why He ever put up with us. I wonder it most everyday. I think I’ll wonder away somewhere else. This pretty much sealed it for me. I dropped my mic right Adam. I’m out of here.

        • W, if youcan, why not try and talk off-list with the person who offended you? I have a feeling that you might be able to resolve this, some way or another.

          There are people here who have bern so badly burned in evangelical/fundy churches, and sometimes folks lash out at *that,* not necessarily at the person they’re replying to.

          I’m sure Chaplaiin Mike would be open to forwarding an emsil – why not give it a try?

        • Clay Crouch says

          I’m not sure what to make of your pronouncements. Haven’t you stated several times that, for one reason or another, you are no longer commenting; the most recent being last week? And haven’t a good number of folks asked you to stay? Why don’t you clearly spell out your beef with this group. I, for one, would like to know.

  2. Michael Z says

    My aunt tells a story about how, as a young missionary, she once helped serve a meal to a large number of kids at an orphanage. They brought out several large pots of soup and said something to the effect of, “Okay, dinner is ready, come and get it,” and there was instant chaos of kids fighting each other to be in the front of the line.

    After that she went back and read this passage – specifically, the part about having people sit down in groups of 50 and assigning disciples to distribute the food to those seated groups – and realized that in addition to performing a miracle, Jesus was also showing an incredible amount of common sense in the way he performed it, to avoid having the crowd go crazy and start trampling each other.

  3. I have been stuck on the version in John for several years. In many ways the event in John is the peak of Jesus’ public ministry, the point at which he is most popular. But the comments he makes afterwards prove to be the lynchpin in moving towards controversy, misunderstanding and ultimately being put to death.

    In John we are always quick to look at the religious leaders and the role they play in stirring things up. But this event also shows us that the masses are only too willing to take the free food and follow Jesus for what they can get out of it—maybe more free food, maybe a good show, maybe a healing, maybe a chance to say “I’m following this famous guy around.”

    It always seemed to me that in John’s account Jesus was quite cognizant of this and knew the spectacular stuff often was not an occasion when he could actually get his message through.

    Just some random thoughts from one who mostly lurks.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      >knew the spectacular stuff often was not an occasion when he could actually get his message through

      I’ve thought this many times. People always *claim* to be convinced of things by extraordinary events… but, in truth, not really. I’ve witnessed so so so many people who claimed to have great Spiritual experiences – miracles, exorcisms, epiphanies, ecstatic experiences… these things do not seem to ‘stick’. And they often get weird [I’m being generous for the sake of consideration and just taking the persons word for the authenticity of the experience].

      • Exhibit A: The children of Israel. They *saw* the Ten Plagues. They crossed the Red Sea between the walls of water. They saw the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. They ate the manna. And what was the first thing they did when they got to Mount Sinai? Build a golden calf. :-/

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        All too often, they just get addicted to the Next Extraordinary Event.

      • Extraordinary events are just that – they are extra-ordinary, and they are blips in what i will call ordinary life. Everyone who sees or expetiences such things still has to get on with the business of their lives, and there’s a limit to how muvh we can think about at any given time.

        The single “extraordinary” thing that stands out to me is Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. Oh, and i would add the story of the woman “taken in adultery,” too. But in both cases, the extraordinariness is dependent on dialogue, as well as (in the latter case) a single statement to a mob that was about to kill the woman. I guess you could also add Jesus’ healing of the man blind from birth, since thete was indeed another private convo recorded, as well as the man hearing Jesus say that his blindness had nothing to do with anyone’s sins.

  4. Christiane says

    “The Guest of our soul knows our misery; He comes to find an empty tent within us – that is all He asks.”

    (St. Therese of Lisieux)

  5. Luke, alone, does not follow the feeding of the five thousand with Jesus walking on the water and each of the other Gospel writers who do relate this miracle each have somewhat of a different slant. In Mark’s account, after Jesus has astounded the disciples and entered into the boat, he adds the curious phrase, “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:52).

    Is Mark, and Jesus, purposely calling to mind Elisha? Just as Elisha was greater than Elijah, is Mark pointing to Jesus as one greater than John? That was, after all, what John (the Baptist) claimed. It’s also interesting that the feeding of the five thousand comes about after the death of John as if to point John’s disciples to the one John was heralding.

    One thing is certain–the feeding of the five thousand and the other miracles are meant to establish Jesus’ identity as one sent from God.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > he adds the curious phrase, “for they did not understand about the loaves,
      > but their hearts were hardened

      Yes another place where Scripture is frustrating; this would be a very good point to interject with some explanatory text. But immediately we are dropped on the other shore of the lake… Hello! 🙂

      Sometimes it Scripture reads like an expert saying to you at the end of a conversation: “No, your wrong” and then just walking away. If Doctor Who were featured in numerous biblical scenes he would chuckle and mutter “that is textbook enigmatic”.

  6. Rick Ro. says

    Chaplain Mike…more of these types of posts!!! Love it!

    Your fourth point – about the Eucharist – is wonderful. I’d never thought of that before. Those are the types of things that help expand the box we put God inside. New revelations, or at least new, challenging thoughts. And I like how that seems to tie in with Paul’s similar act of giving thanks and breaking bread during the shipwreck in Acts 27:33-38, verse 35 in particular:

    “Until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish.’ Having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all, and he broke it and began to eat. All of them were encouraged and they themselves also took food. All of us in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six persons. When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing out the wheat into the sea.”

  7. I find it interesting that in over 50 years I have never seen the relationship between the O.T. story and the N.T. story. Maybe this demonstrates an advantage to using the lectionary!

    By the way, the first story does not sound like that much of a miracle… depending on the size of the loafs.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Maybe this demonstrates an advantage to using the lectionary!


    • Yes it does!

      Interesting thing about the lectionary: For centuries it did not include an Old Testament reading at all. It was just Gospel and Epistle, with a Psalm, which was sung. The Old Testament reading was added, in some circles, within the last 75 years. And then the whole cycle was re-written after Vatican 2.

      In the new lectionary (3 year series instead of 1 year), the two most closely coordinated readings are the Old Testament and the Gospel. A comparison of the two throughout the cycle is a good primer on finding Christ in the Old Testament.

      So it’s an incredibly useful feature of the lectionary, but also a relatively recent development.

      • Unfortunately, however, this beautiful thing is completely lost on too many preachers in lectionary using churches.

      • One more thing, Mike:

        Fisk here gives an incredible demonstration of connecting the Testaments in this commentary on a recent Gospel pericope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4qJiunXsLI

        • turnsalso says

          Love me some Pastor Fisk.

          • Yeah, a lot of people have trouble with his presentation style, but the substance he imparts is incredible. Over the years I have learned as much from him as I did listening to R. C. Sproul’s daily podcast for 3 years straight. His twice weekly teaching has tackled every topic of the catechism and broken down greek lexical issues for the entire 3 year cycle of Gospel readings. This kind of stuff is just pure gold, many a teacher in a far more serious format does not accomplish this volume with such clarity. It has literally transformed the way I think about God and read the Bible, and helped me break through so many of my Fundagelical hangups.

  8. David Denis says

    I have loved this miracle/parable for some time as one that gives me great hope. It reminds me that in Christ, God takes the what I can offer, no matter how small, how humble, how inadequate and in himself he multiplies it into total sufficiency for his purposes. I think the significance goes beyond serving lunch just as the Lord’s Supper is beyond sharing a snack.

    If he can transform the yeast-transformed wheat flour and the yeast-transformed grape juice and through it contrive to feed my soul, then certainly he is not beyond performing a similar double-triple transformation on just about anything if he wishes, in order to feed any number of people thereby. Spiritually. Physically.

    And this is especially, vitally, needfully true for churches to know.

    Dry fish. Crusty loaf. Meagre mite. Poor talent. Weak faith. Stumbling walk. Once offered up to him, who knows what he will make of it? It is not what is offered, it is that is is offered, and to whom it is offered.

    I kind of depend on that, because what I have sure doesn’t look like much most days.

    • Rick Ro. says


    • Another Amen. Just offer what you have, where you are.

    • “Dry fish. Crusty loaf. Meagre mite. Poor talent. Weak faith. Stumbling walk. Once offered up to him, who knows what he will make of it? It is not what is offered, it is that is is offered, and to whom it is offered.”

      That will preach. Thank you for this.

  9. Dana Ames says

    I don’t remember reading the Elisha story, either.

    The number of 5 loaves also hearkens back to David, on the run from Saul, asking for bread at the tabernacle and receiving the showbread. David takes the holy bread; Jesus makes the bread they have holy. Also, looking ahead, in John 21 Jesus has fish cooking on a charcoal fire, and there is also bread, so he is feeding the disciples there, too. More Eucharistic overtones.


  10. Robert F says

    “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

    Miracle, mystery and authority; Jesus had all three. Unlike the Grand Inquisitor, Jesus refused to use those powers to take away human freedom in the name of making human beings happy. This refusal is where Jesus took up the cross, and it wasn’t just once at Calvary, but throughout his life. At the end of this pericope, Jesus takes up his cross when he withdraws to the mountain, and he carries it by himself, alone, as he has throughout his life, and as he will at Golgotha. The loneliness of Jesus on the cross.

    • I don’t buy into the standard picture of Jesus as a cold, somber person. I believe it was Chesterton who said the one quality of God we most often miss is his mirth and I’m certain Jesus had such a quality. However, there seems to be no escaping that Jesus bore the weight of his destiny throughout his ministry and we see it here. Thank you for a beautiful reflection, Robert F.