1 December 2010

Matthew 15:29-37

"The Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat, and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.'" (v. 32)


It's all too easy to look at a Bible passage that is familiar and think we know it all already. Has this happened to you with today's reading? If so, then look again: it's the feeding of the 4,000 (Matthew 15:38), not the 5,000; there are seven loaves and a few fishes, not five loaves and two fishes; seven baskets of leftovers were collected rather than twelve. (The feeding of the 5,000 is also recorded in Matthew 14:15-21.) 

The details of the story also suggest that this is a very different crowd. For example the word for baskets in chapter 14 is 'kophinoi'. The kophinos was a narrow-necked, flasked shaped basket which Jews often carried with them, so they would not have to eat anything that was touched by a Gentile (non-Jew) hand and so be rendered unclean. In chapter 15 the word for baskets is 'sphurides', which is more like a hamper and big enough to carry a man. This is a container that Gentiles would use. 

Biblical scholars trying to understand the inclusion of two very similar episodes so close to each other in the Gospels suggest that one (the 5,000) refers to Jesus feeding the Jewish people and with the 4,000 Jesus is demonstrating his love and care for the Gentiles. God's love and the kingdom of the king knows no bounds. 

In verse 33 the disciples ask Jesus how on earth would they have find enough food to feed the crowd, even though they'd faced a similar predicament in the previous chapter (verses 15-21). Had they forgotten already? Did they expect Jesus to do something different? Had they learnt never to make assumptions about him? 

To Ponder

How often do you make assumptions about God, and think you have got the measure of God? And how does God surprise you?

What can you do so that God is able to surprise you?

The two miracle stories show that there is no limit to God's kingdom and the rule of Christ as king. Where are the no-go areas in your life or people in your community which you find difficult to accept that God is present? Spend some time in prayer offering them to God.

Bible notes author

Ken Kingston

Ken Kingston preaches in the High Wycombe Circuit. He has worked for the Connexional Team since 1992 in a variety of roles and has been involved in 'Called by Name' and 'Time to Talk of God' amongst others.