The Feedings of the Multitudes (14:13-21, 15:32-38)
At the foot of the Mount of the Beatitudes is a little church called Tabgha that dates to the Byzantine era. The church marks the site where Jesus fed the crowd, and the famous mosaic laid into its floor looks like this:
You can see under the altar the two fish and the basket of bread that recalls the feeding of the multitude. We bought some plates at the gift shop that are reproductions of the altar art (and later learned that traveling halfway across the world with plates in your suitcase isn’t the best idea–this one got chipped in transit). You can see the bread and fish a little clearer on them:
I’m probably not the only one who read Monday’s chapter and thought, “Didn’t I just read this story?” Answer: Yes you did—on Saturday. Matthew recounts Jesus feeding the crowd twice. Or, more precisely, Matthew writes about Jesus feeding two crowds.
Why tell essentially the same story twice? And if you’re going to use both feeding stories, why put them so close together in your gospel?
The good folks who maintain the church at Tabgha explain that the first miraculous potluck occurred in Galilee where Jesus fed a Jewish crowd. The second feeding happened in Lebanon where Jesus fed a Gentile crowd. Matthew, the most Jewish of the gospels, goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Jesus, a religiously observant Jew, would not mingle Jews and Gentiles at a meal.
That may be (although Jesus did make a habit of eating with tax collectors and sinners who were ritually unclean). But what caught my attention about the two potluck suppers is the behavior of the disciples.
I totally get their response in chapter 14. Feed this mob? Are you kidding? With what? Then Jesus ever so patiently leads them into the miracle of God’s overwhelming abundance. The disciples distributed the food and cleaned up after the meal. There were 12 baskets of food left over, Matthew emphasizes. That’s one huge take home box for each disciple!
A mere chapter later the disciples are in the same situation and instead of reacting, “Oh yeah, we know how this is going down!” they are again clueless. It’s as if the first feeding had never happened.
Question: Are disciples that dense?
Answer: Yes, we are.
Disciples then and now seem to have a memory block when it comes to the miraculous abundance of God. God provides for us (food, financial rescue, physical healing) and we are truly grateful; but the next time we’re in need we totally forget how God rescued us in the past. We’re like the children of Israel in the wilderness who, after being delivered from slavery, walking through the Red Sea, receiving manna to eat every morning, still complained to Moses, “We are going to die of thirst.” Why would God not have continued to provide for them?
And for us. You might want to review the two miraculous potluck suppers, paying particular attention to the reaction of the disciples. Matthew is giving us a lesson on how Christ followers should respond when faced with a God-sized challenge. We should recall how God has provided in the past, and with eager anticipation offer thanks for how God is about to provide again.