Feeding The Multitude

By: Rev. James Behrens, Retired Pastor from Susquehanna Conference United Methodist Church


This past year, while visiting at Encompass Health as Chaplain, I met a person who told me they did not believe the Bible was an accurate account of God’s work. They saw it as a book of fairy tales. When I asked them if there was something that came to mind, they mentioned the feeding of the multitude.

There are several accounts of Jesus feeding a multitude of people. While they stated they did not believe it, I told the person I did, and I continue to believe that today. I have no issues with believing that a God who creates the universe in a matter of seconds can manage to feed 5,000 men, not counting women and children, as recorded in Matthew 14:13-21.

Some pastors and scholars have a little different take on the scripture than I have. I became aware of some of the interpretations when I went to seminary to complete a Doctor of Ministry degree. The professor’s explanation given at that time took away the miracle and gave a different view of the story.

Their version went something like this: people in Jesus’ day knew there would be no fast food restaurants, convenience stores, or other places to purchase food. Therefore, many carried a bag with food in it. Many carried fish, bread, and other items to sustain them. Despite this, the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to purchase food from the villages. Jesus instead told his disciples to feed them.

Their response would be much the way ours would be: “Say what?”. The disciples were as shocked as we would be. I mean, I have served meals in churches over the years. We find two fish and five loaves of bread do not go very far, even with the smaller crowds we have had, let alone 5,000 plus people. The professor’s response was that, when the people sat in groups and saw the food was blessed, they shared the meal. Many reached into their bags, moved out of generosity, and shared their own food with the others, which also is the reason that there was food left over.

It is a theory which tries to explain that we need to share what we have with others. This theory tends to leave God out of the picture, other than the blessing of the food. While I believe that God works through people to do ministry, I also believe there are still miracles which go beyond our ability as humankind. Gideon had to scale down his army before he attacked the Midianites, so the battle would not be credited to the army, but to God. Samuel attacked the Philistines after telling the people what they needed to do.

The Philistines did not rule again until after his death because God intervened. We are told that, when the Philistines were attacking, thunder confused them, and then the people of Israel routed them. God also fed millions in the wilderness with manna and gave them water to drink in the desert.

While some, in the Matthew 14:13-21 feeding of the multitudes, may have shared what they had, I still believe that the task was not too much for God to handle. At the end of the meal, there were twelve baskets left after the people ate their fill. The baskets were probably fishing baskets, which could have held anything from about 3/5 bushel to 6 1/2 bushels each.

God works through people. People brought bread and fish. But don’t underestimate what God is able to do in any situation. Instead of challenging everything, just be amazed at the wonder of it all.