31 July 2011

"And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, 12 baskets full." (v. 20)


This is a favourite story about Jesus for many people. In the verses before, Matthew has told the story of the death of John the Baptist, who announced Jesus' ministry to the world, baptized Jesus and, according to Luke, was related to Jesus. We cannot tell the effect John's death had on Jesus - no doubt he wanted to mourn - and perhaps it also added to Jesus' sense that his own ministry would bring him into conflict with powerful men and end in his own death. What we do know is that he reacted to the news by trying to get away by himself for a while. But he was followed by a large crowd and, despite his own needs, responded with compassion, including feeding the large crowd.

Matthew deliberately includes some symbols which hint that this story is about more than just a miraculous feeding. The story of the Exodus included an account of God providing an abundance of 'manna' or bread for God's people. The emphasis in this story on the abundance of the food provided and the idea that everyone is "filled" (v. 20) may be intended both to remind people of the Exodus (see Exodus 16) and of the promise that the hungry will be fed at God's banquet (Luke 14:15-24). In verse 19 Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it - actions which he also performed at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26). The 12 baskets of food left over are a reminder of the twelve tribes of Israel.

It is worth remembering that Jesus lived in a world in which food was often scarce; the simple statement that once everyone had fed they were 'filled' is easy to pass over when we expect to feel full after every meal. In Jesus' world this simple statement is an important reminder of God's bounty and generosity.

To Ponder

Jesus wanted time to himself but instead looked after the crowd. Is this a good example for us to follow? Why?

Imagine yourself as one of the disciples. What would you be thinking and feeling as the story progresses?

Bible notes author: The Revd Judith Rossall

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