And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. (Mark 6:41)
Recommended reading: Mark 6: 34-44 and Mark 8: 1-9
Mark is the only one of the four gospels to include two incidents of Jesus feeding the multitude with loaves and fishes. There is a lot of debate amongst Bible scholars as to whether this was one miracle mentioned twice, or two separate miracles. Details differ between the incidents, not the least of which involves numbers – of the people, the loaves, the fishes and the baskets of ‘left-overs.’ It’s worth reading both, and looking into the different options, then deciding for yourself.
For my part, I cannot see the point of a single Gospel writer including the same incident twice, and that with discrepancies such as those mentioned above. What would be the point? My view is that there were two incidents, and that is because the Bible tells me there were two. That they were similar in no way negates either of them, just as Jesus healed, for example, more than one blind person. He may have done it in different ways, depending on what was appropriate, but if it’s there in the Bible, there seems little point in debating it ad nauseum.
There is, I further believe, a significant message contained in including both incidents. To grasp this, let’s have a quick look at each. One uses seven loaves and a few small fish to feed four thousand – and keep in mind this was the number of men, not including women and children who were also fed – and there were seven baskets of leftovers once everyone had eaten. The other uses five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men, plus women and children, and twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered at the end.
There is one common denominator: In both incidents, Jesus did something significant. He didn’t go into a lengthy prayer. He didn’t call a committee meeting. He didn’t put a feeding programme in place. He simply took what they had, gave thanks, blessed it, and then divided it up. Like the widow with the oil, it just kept right on coming while there remained a need. From this we can learn something utterly awesome: simplicity and faith is all that is required. We don’t need heavy religious rhetoric or fervent, spiritual-sounding prayers. We need faith that God recognises a real need and is, in fact ‘Jehovah Jireh,’ our provider. If the need is real, God is there, and faith releases the provision. It may not be what we expect or even how we expect it, but God has what it takes to meet the need.
The second really interesting message is that there were leftovers. That reminds us that He is a God of abundance – exceedingly, abundantly, far more than we could ever ask or imagine. Do we limit God by what we expect from Him? Do we limit Him by being prescriptive in our prayers – telling Him what He ought to do and how to do it instead of relying completely on His willingness and ability to provide the perfect miracle for each individual need? These incidents bring home the reality that God will always provide enough and more – that His provision will not only be sufficient for the need but will also have excess to feed others. He is truly a generous God.
Finally, the most important message of all: God will provide a greater miracle for a greater need. His provision is not measured and doled out by portion. We can expect that the greater the need, the greater the miracle He provides. Consider the numbers. Seven loaves and a few small fish for four thousand, compared to five loaves and two fish for five thousand. Seven baskets left over from feeding the four thousand, compared to twelve baskets after feeding the five thousand.
So, to feed four thousand He had more to work with and less left over than He did to feed five thousand, where He had less to work with and more left over. Isn’t that amazing? It’s no wonder Mark included both incidents in his Gospel. What a totally encouraging and eye-opening message. Not only does it remind us that nothing is impossible with God, but it also tells us that He is a God of multiplication. With God, it’s never simple addition. It’s always multiplication. Because the miracle is never intended simply for ‘us.’ It’s always so that there is more to ‘pass on’ to others, to share, to witness to His saving grace and compassion for the needs of His people.
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the reminder that You recognise our needs as being individual, each with their own specific requirement. Thank You that You have not only the resources and the power to make our miracles happen, big or small, but that You desire to do so. Help me to always remember Your faithfulness and Your grace, and to share the abundance with others, as witness to Your unfailing grace and mercy.