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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Day 290: The feeding of the five thousand

If there’s two miracles that everybody knows, it’s feeding 5000 and walking on water.
The feeding of the five thousand
Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13
Jesus leaves the crowd
Matthew 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-46, John 6:14-15
Jesus walks on the water
Matthew 14:24-33, Mark 6:47-52, John 6:16-21
He heals the sick at Gennesaret
Matthew 14:34-36, Mark 6:53-56

All four gospel writers tell these two stories in the light of the pressure from the crowds. So many people are following Jesus that he cannot get any peace or any rest. He tries to withdraw to a lonely place, far from any towns, but the crowds follow him, even to the extent of going without food. The gospel writers differ as to what Jesus’ motivation for feeding them is. John and Luke seem to imply that he was testing his disciples, telling them to get the crowds some food, before teaching them to rely on him. Matthew and Mark mention Jesus’ compassion - although he was trying to get away from people, he still notices their needs and provides for them.
The reaction of the crowd is interesting - John tells us they tried to make Jesus king by force. They’ve seen enough. They want this man to rule over them. Jesus has to escape from their intentions, and seems somehow to have persuaded them to go away. He’s already sent his disciples across the lake by boat, heading for the Gentile shore where the Jewish crowd will be less likely to follow.
I’ve had the privilege of going to Galilee and standing on the shore of the lake. You can see the far side very clearly, and it would take you no more than an hour to walk in a straight line to it, but the best part of a day to go all the way round. Perhaps Jesus thought to himself, “I’m tired, I’ll take a short cut.” Whatever his reasoning, he scares the disciples to death, unsurprisingly, but Peter masters his fear and has a go at walking on water himself, with mixed results.
Fascinating implication this - he could do it when his belief was strong, but not when he doubted. Is this Star Wars and feeling the force? Could we all walk on water if we only believed? Does anybody care? I think it’s strange we get so excited about this miracle, which is ultimately pointless, and overlook others like healing and raising the dead, which to me are so much more significant.

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