Summary: Got bread? You do if your hope and trust is in Jesus Christ.
Our passage gives us a sense of déjà vu. Feeding a crowd, the dullness of the disciples, the hostility of the Pharisees – we’ve been there before.
During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 2 “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”
Jesus apparently is still in the Decapolis area. He now has a large crowd around him. Presumably he has been teaching and, most likely, healing as well. This has been going on for three days. Note the distinctions already between the two feedings. The conditions seem to be starker than the time of his first feeding of a crowd. There is no reference to green grass as in the earlier story. In the first feeding, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowd away into the surrounding towns. It seems here that they would have a fair distance to walk, and, again, instead of just one day being with Jesus, they evidently have camped out with him for three days.
In the first story, the disciples interrupt Jesus’ teaching to have him send the people away for dinner. Jesus retorts that they should feed the people, and they in shock ask where they are going to get the money to buy enough food. In this case, Jesus raises the dilemma and expresses his compassion for the people. This time the disciples note the problem of location, that they are too far away to get food. 4 His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
Their response seems incredulous, doesn’t it? He has miraculously fed a larger crowd before. How could they possibly act dumb this time? Before we get too upset with the disciples, let’s note carefully the record. Jesus has raised the problem with the disciples, but has not said what he would do. He does not say, “I have compassion on the people; I think I will feed them.” Instead, he says, “I have compassion on the people, but if I send them away for food, I’m afraid they won’t make it.” It could be that the disciples, being respectful of their teacher, do not presume to impose on Jesus. He is in Gentile territory, after all, and is not necessarily expected to repeat the same type of miracle that he did in Jewish territory.
It could also be that the disciples are in on Jesus’ game. They could be speaking to one another with that “knowing look.” “Gee, what am I going to do?” Jesus asks, knowing full well what he will do. “Gosh, there is no place around here to get food,” respond the disciples, knowing that they are setting the stage for yet another miracle.
Or, maybe they really are wondering what to do. Maybe, the first feeding has happened long enough ago that it is not fresh in their minds, and after three trying days in wilderness territory with a lot of Gentiles, they are not thinking about the other feeding. I’ve amazed myself with temporary memory lost that a jury would probably find incredulous.
What happens next, of course, does not surprise us. He feeds four thousand men (and probably another four thousand women and children) with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. Afterwards, the disciples collect seven basketfuls of leftovers. Once again, Jesus performs a spectacular miracle.
He then dismisses the crowd, hops into a boat and crosses the Sea of Galilee back into Jewish territory. There his good friends, the Pharisees, meet him. In our last episode with the Pharisees in chapter 7, they questioned Jesus about his failure to observe the purity traditions of the elders, and he in turn accused them of failing to observe the fourth commandment to honor one’s parents. I doubt they left on good terms!
In the last passage, I talked about how Jesus’ miracles would have aroused the hopes of the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. Despite his miracles, however, the Pharisees and teachers of the law are not merely skeptical of Jesus, but downright hate him. This man surely could not be the Messiah in their eyes.
Why not? The Pharisees and teachers of the law were real theologians and practitioners of the faith. A few miracles and showmanship were not going to deceive them. Jesus obviously was not legit because of his scandalous behavior and heretical teaching.
Consider: He contradicts the traditions of the elders about purity laws, and even has the audacity to accuse the men who are most diligent to keep the law of being lawbreakers. He has the nerve to heal a man on the Sabbath, of all times. He claims to forgive sins, which is blasphemy. He claims to be a holy man of God and yet he hangs out with disreputable sinners, the very people that the true Messiah would have condemned. Indeed, he condemns those who are morally upright and befriends those who are scandalous.