Why did Jesus enact the miracle of 5 loaves and 2 fish?

Why did Jesus enact the miracle of 5 loaves and 2 fish?

There are four authorized accounts of the life of Jesus. Called “gospels,” they are named after their authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. All of them report Jesus’ miracle of “feeding the 5,000 (men).”[1]

The gospel reading for this Sunday is Matthew’s account of that miracle. It’s in Matthew chapter 14, verses 13 to 21. (Lectionary readings for this Sunday.)

Matthew begins his account of the miracle by pointing back to what he wrote in verses 1 to 12.

In those verses, he tells us Herod the Tetrarch (Herod Antipas), ruler of the states of Galilee and Perea, beheaded John Baptist. Why did Herod do so? Because John publicly criticized Herod’s act of marrying his own brother Philip’s wife.

Matthew tells us that John’s disciples went to Jesus and told him Herod had killed John. He tells us that Jesus’ response was to flee.

Scholars agree that Jesus must’ve left the area over which Herod ruled, and entered an area over which Philip ruled (Iturea[2]). Jesus fled. Or did he? I raise the doubt because, being God, he may have known that a massive number of people would seek him out. The people loved both him and John!

Matthew tells us Jesus went to the wilderness, to be alone. He took a short route, by boat. But the crowds wanted to be with him; they took a long route, probably on foot. They brought many sick people with them.

Jesus didn’t call the crowd. But the movement and gathering of thousands of oppressed people during the Roman occupation was a political challenge to the rule of both Herod and Philip.[3],[4] Which government doesn’t worry about and attack those who draw crowds to themselves?

When Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion on them. He healed their sick. When he finished, it was late. Even if there were villages nearby, there wouldn’t be enough food in them to feed such a large crowd.

Unlike people who go in search of healers today, these people didn’t bring anything for Jesus. They couldn’t. Why? Because they were dirt poor, exploited, exhausted. They were used to going hungry.

What didn’t Jesus do?

He didn’t scold the people for going out without food. He didn’t tell them to share what little they had with their neighbours. He didn’t command stones to become bread.

What did Jesus do?

He told his disciples to feed the people. Shocked, they said they couldn’t. He pressed them. They brought him all they had: five loaves and two fish.

Jesus used a formula – which, strikingly, is recorded in every one of the four gospel accounts. He said a blessing. He broke the food. He distributed it: so like what he did, and we do, at the Lord’s Supper.

What was the result?

Over 5,000 men were fed – we’re not told the number of women and children. Everyone was satisfied. There was lots leftover – 12 basketfuls.

That’s what happened. Now, I’ll get to the question: “Why did Jesus enact the miracle with 5 loaves and 2 fish, for over 5,000 people?”

Explaining it

These are among the many possible explanations:

  • Jesus threw a party for the oppressed as a contrast to Herod Antipas’ party for the oppressors – at which John Baptist head was served on a platter.
  • Jesus powerfully reminded his disciples of how the prophet Elijah had similarly “stretched” 20 loaves to feed 100 men, with leftovers, see 2 Kings 4. The same passage tells us Elijah multiplied what remained of a widow’s stock of oil.
  • Jesus showed that just as God could feed His people in the wilderness (with manna), the Son of God could feed people in the wilderness.
  • Jesus enacted an event to remind us of the great eschatological banquet, at which we will be his guests, at the end of time (Matthew 25:1-13).

What does the miracle of 5 loaves and 2 fish mean for the oppressed today? Do we dare to believe Jesus fled Herod? Do we dare to believe Jesus knew a crowd would follow him? Do we dare to believe Jesus staged a counterpoint to Herod’s party? Do we dare to believe Jesus made some political calculations? Or do we just focus on Jesus’ healing and feeding?

What does loving our neighbours mean, politically? Peace be with you.

[1] Matthew 5:21 “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

[2] And Perea.

[3] In the account of this miracle in the Gospel according to John, we read: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)

[4] Philip (the Tetrarch) must’ve been informed by his spies that Herod had beheaded John, and that he’d done so because of Philip’s own wife who had deserted him. Politically, Philip benefited from Jesus’ gathering.

3 thoughts on “Why did Jesus enact the miracle of 5 loaves and 2 fish?”

  1. Pingback: Why did Jesus water-walk but not teleport? – Bangsar Lutheran Church

  2. Pingback: Was Jesus incredibly rude to a desperate mother? – Bangsar Lutheran Church

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *