The 12 apostles have enjoyed a preaching tour throughout Galilee, and they relate to Jesus “all the things they had done and taught.” Understandably, they are tired. Yet, they do not even have time to eat because so many people are coming and going. So Jesus says: “Come, you yourselves, privately into an isolated place and rest up a little.”
They board a boat, probably near Capernaum, and head for an out-of-the-way place east of the Jordan River beyond Bethsaida. Many people, however, see them leave, and others learn about it. Together they run along the shore and are there when the boat lands.
Leaving the boat, Jesus sees the crowd and is moved with pity, for they are as sheep without a shepherd. So he starts “to teach them many things” about the Kingdom. (Mark 6:34) He also heals “those needing a cure.” (Luke 9:11) As time passes, the disciples say to him: “The place is isolated and the hour is already late; send the crowds away, so that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
Jesus replies: “They do not have to leave; you give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16) Although Jesus already knows what he is going to do, he tests Philip with the question: “Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip is the one to ask, for he is from nearby Bethsaida. Still, buying bread is not the solution. There are about 5,000 men. And the total may be double that, counting women and children! Philip responds: “Two hundred denarii [a denarius is a day’s wage] worth of bread is not enough for each of them to get even a little.”
Perhaps to show the impossibility of feeding them all, Andrew comments: “Here is a little boy who has five barley loaves and two small fish. But what are these among so many?”
It is springtime, just before the Passover of 32 C.E., and green grass covers the hillside. Jesus has his disciples tell the people to recline on the grass in groups of 50 and of 100. He takes the five loaves and two fish and gives thanks to God. Then he breaks the loaves and divides up the fish. Jesus gives these to the disciples to distribute to the people. Amazingly, all the people eat until they are satisfied!
Later, Jesus tells his disciples: “Gather together the fragments left over, so that nothing is wasted.” (John 6:12) They are able to fill 12 baskets with the leftovers gathered!
How did Jesus provide spiritual food to the first-century congregations? Does it set a pattern for today?