The Deeper Meaning of the Feeding of the 5,000
"Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people."
The story in Luke 9:12-17 is often called “The Feeding of the 5,000,” though, in fact, the total number of people fed was much larger, since 5,000 identifies the number of men present. The plot of the story is simple. Thousands of people gathered in a “remote place” where Jesus was teaching and healing them. When it came time for the evening meal, there was nothing for people to eat, other than five loaves of bread and two fish. From these, however, Jesus was able to provide ample food for the whole crowd. He miraculously multiplied the quantity of food so that everyone was well fed and there were twelve baskets of leftovers.
Not unlike Jesus’ healing miracles, his feeding of the crowd shows his compassion of human beings and their needs. Jesus cared for the people in their ordinary hunger and demonstrated loving hospitality.
Yet, like the healings, the miracle of feeding also demonstrated the presence of the kingdom of God. It echoed the familiar story of God providing manna for the children of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness (Exod. 16:1-36). And it began to fulfill Old Testament prophetic promises, such as are found in Isaiah:
In Jerusalem, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies
will spread a wonderful feast
for all the people of the world.
It will be a delicious banquet
with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. (Isa. 25:6-8)
Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (Isa. 40:10-11)
Thus, feeding the hungry is both an act of compassion and a demonstration of the presence of God’s kingdom.
Throughout the centuries, Christians have followed the lead of Jesus in seeking to feed people, especially those with limited access to food. Increasingly, we are striving to help the poor, not only by feeding them, but also by helping them to develop the means to feed themselves. Luke 9:12-17 serves as an encouragement to those who work in businesses that provide food: farmers, truckers, people in the grocery and restaurant businesses, as well as many others. This passage also provides inspiration for those who cook for their families and friends. Through our efforts to care for human need and to offer hospitality to people, we are able to participate in the kingdom ministry of Jesus.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What strikes you in the story of The Feeding of the 5,000? When you eat, do you think of your food as a gift from God? In what ways are you helping to feed people? Do you think of this as participation in the work of God’s kingdom? How might this perspective change the way you feel or act?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, first of all, I thank you for caring for my ordinary human needs. Thank you for my “daily bread.”
I also thank you today for the presence of your kingdom. Though the fullness of your reign is yet to come, nevertheless, we are able to begin to experience life under your gracious sovereignty.
I bring before you, Lord, all of those who provide food for people. I want to thank you for those who grow the food I eat, for those who transport it and sell it, and for those who prepare it (especially my wife!). I thank you also for those people and organizations that seek to feed the hungry and help the poor to develop the means to produce food.
Finally, I pray for those who are hungry today. May you provide for them. May you stir up your people to feed the hungry, even as you once did in the wilderness. May individuals and charitable organizations and businesses and governments work in partnership so that all people might have access to food for life. And may all of this be for your glory! Amen.