In Matthew 14 Jesus feeds five thousand people. The story begins with Jesus removing himself to mourn John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12), but he finds himself surrounded by crowds of people needing to be taught and healed. As the story unfolds, Jesus wants to feed these hungry people and the disciples can only find five pieces of bread and two fish. After giving thanks for the bread and fish, the disciples just start passing out the food. The offering that started out small ends with an abundance because there are twelve baskets left over. At first glance, this is an amazing miracle of taking nothing (or not much) and turning into something; however, there are contextual clues that may lead us to believe that something bigger is happening.
First, as John and Luke both record, Jesus is near the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, specifically the town of Bethsaida (John 6:1 & Luke 9:10). The importance here is that it is a predominately Jewish region. If we just focus on the food, we miss this critical detail that comes into play when Jesus feeds another group of people.
In the next chapter, Matthew 15, Jesus feeds four thousand people. There are so many similarities in this story to that of the feeding of the five thousand that it feels strange. However, there are crucial differences. For one, in Matthew 15, we have seven loaves of bread and a small number of fish. And secondly, we have a different location. Mark notes that Jesus is in the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31). This is on the south shore of the Sea of Galilee and has a predominately Gentile audience. It’s a completely different location and a completely different audience.
It’s easy to miss this if we just focus on the food. However, Jesus is calling us to be mindful that there are others that need to be invited to the table. It may seem crowded or challenging, but we have to make sure that we can add a chair so that someone new has a place in God’s kingdom.