“We have nothing here…”
The Feeding of the Five Thousand is a very well-known story from Scripture. At first, it looks as a simple miracle story: The crowd followed Jesus showing interest either on his words or the healing power; people were healed; it got late and there was no food to feed them; Jesus takes a small portion of bread and fish, multiplies it, and everyone is fed. However, when you pay attention to the details in the narrative across the gospels, you begin to see interesting changes.
Each gospel writer and their communities had a special source they used to write the story of Jesus. There are more similarities between Mark, Matthew, and Luke writings (the Synoptic) than with John (a story for another time). The earliest gospel account is that of Mark (M), and Mark used a collection of Jesus’ sayings (Q) to write his story of Jesus. Matthew and Luke used Mark and their own special source to write their own account of the Story of Jesus.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand is one of the few stories that appear in all gospels. This week we read Matthew’s version of the story. Matthew follows the basic framework of Mark but makes a small change in it. When the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they could go to the villages to buy food Jesus tells them to feed them. Their response to Jesus is “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” The disciples in Matthew were willing to share what they have with Jesus so that he could feed the multitude. Their behavior is similar to the boy in John’s story who offers Jesus the bread and the fish. There are several possibilities to interpret this story, as we have seen in the history of interpretation. However, there is a minor problem. The original story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is a bit different. Mark is the oldest of the stories, and Matthew and Luke are dependent on it. In the Markan account the disciples argue with Jesus about his request to feed the crowd: “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” Jesus knew they had brought some food with them and asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They had food but did not offer it to Jesus. Jesus told them to go and look. The story in Mark reads “When they [the disciples] had found out, they said ‘Five, and two fish.”
In Matthew’s story the disciples look better than in Mark. Matthew changed the way the disciples behaved.
If you were writing the story of Jesus today, how would you write it? Are there things you will change? What are those things? As you reflect on this text, how do you interpret the attitude of the disciples in Matthew and in Mark? What teaching (didactic) and preaching (kerygmatic) possibilities you see in this text?
Asking questions to Scriptures (so to speak) is fun. This what I like the most in doing theology and in biblical studies. However, all miracle stories share something in common, “each one pictures the act of God in Christ to deliver human beings from this threat [hunger, sickness, sin, death, etc.] to authentic life. Each one looks back on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and sums up the meaning of the whole Christ-event in one brief narrative.”