There isn’t any denying that Jesus feeding the five-thousand in Matthew 14:13-21 is a miracle story. The better question is what sort of miracle happened in this story? That answer may come as a surprise and it certainly must challenge the local church to a deeper faith in what God can do.
In the story, the faith of Jesus stands in contrast to the unbelief of the disciples. When the disciples only see impossibility, Jesus gives thanks to the Heavenly Father as the provider (France, The Gospel of Matthew, 562) for the five loaves and two fish he has. That is where the miracle happens so that the crowd can eat. The text never explicitly states that Jesus performed a miracle, rather it’s an implicit assumption we make of the story. So what was the miracle?
The traditional view is that Jesus performed a supernatural miracle where he turned the five loaves and two fish into many loaves and fish. I still believe this is the best reading of the text (not because I am trying protect conservative dogma about scripture) and of course, the Gospel of John does explicitly mention that Jesus performed a “sign” (Jn 6:14). Nevertheless, whether or not Jesus performed a supernatural miracle, I certainly believe he was able to do so. Alternative views explain the feeding in a non-supernatural account. While some alternative explanations appear as a stretch such as saying that Jesus was only satisfying the crowd’s spiritual hunger (and may betray a commitment to liberal dogma), one explanation is plausible. This view says that as Jesus began sharing the five loaves and two fish, others in the crowd who did have food began sharing with those who did not which resulted in the kingdom reign of God breaking forth as true koinonia took place.
The Economy of God’s Kingdom
Though I believe this alternative view is more difficult of an explanation in light of the text, it’s commendable because it demonstrates the economy in the Kingdom of God. That is, the acceptance of a world of two classes — those who have and those who do not have — disappears as all have everything in common because of the koinonia they have in Christ (cf. Acts 2:42-47). Though such an occurrence doesn’t fit the traditional sense of what miracles are, it isn’t any less miraculous since it is the work of God.
Having said that, I believe we miss the point when we getting hung up on the question of whether or not a supernatural miracle occurred. What Matthew wants us to know is that the crowd “all at and were satisfied” (v. 20). This gets us at the point. When Jesus told the disciples to feed the crowd, they believed it was an impossible task. Yet Jesus believed otherwise and began with what the disciples had, five loaves and two fish, and found a way to bless the entire crowd with a meal. This is the surprising miracle that local churches must always remember, especially small churches who have limited resources. No matter how small a church’s resources appear to be, God can take those resources and bless others to satisfaction!
The surprising miracle is that no matter how big or small, the economy of God’s kingdom is possible for the church that has faith!
Tomorrow I plan to get very practical about the unexpected ways God might seek to bless others through us just as he did through Jesus and the disciples. See also yesterday’s post Feeding 5,000: The Making of a Miracle and Monday’s post Feeding 5,000: The Unexpected Kingdom of God.