The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 15-20)

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.

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5 Responses to The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 15-20)

  1. ? says:


    (Mary Beth posted this lame comment.)

  2. Lj says:

    Isn’t this how we should respond also when facing any crisis? If so, do we EVER respond in this manner? Honestly, when is the last time you responded this way when facing a situation in which you are running-out or running-low on what others see you as responsible for (ex. Money, excitement, motivation, joy, direction … Etc.)

    Is our immediate response to merely trust God, and Go with the flow trusting Him to be enough and his wisdom being with us, OR is it rather to put up a fake self and act like we are what we are not until the crisis passes … aND then, pious, don’t we all end up, praising God with tears of gratitude. Gratitude, I would argue, for not having “lost our pride” in front of others. But Matthew hauntingly is saying to us that that isn’t what the Jesus Way is all about.

    Sammy, what is a good rule of thumb reaction when we face crisis in light of what Matthew is telling us?


  3. Kasey Buckland says:

    Love your question lj!!! Can’t wait for the answer!
    So- matt 20. Can you breakdown the vineyard story for me?
    Also, he came to be a slave for humanity, not to be served. Did he ever want to be served? He was fully human. Didn’t he get tired or discouraged? How did he get himself out of that place?

  4. Kasey Buckland says:

    Matt 23- Jesus is serious about how rotten the pharasees are. How can we make sure we are guarding ourselves against ever resembling them? What does a modern day pharasee look like?

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