The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Why? It seems to be among the simplest of the miracles and we all learned it as children. I have long wondered what I was missing. Certainly John's gospel adds depth with Jesus' bread of life discourse which is not recorded in Matthew, Mark or Luke. Is there more? What about this miracle impacted the four so deeply that they all told it? More significantly, why did the Holy Spirit deem it so important that he inspired three repetitions?
In the night after the miracle, but before the discourse recorded in John six, Jesus came walking on the water to the disciples who were under distress in the storm. When he got into the boat, the winds ceased and the disciples, "were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened" (Mk 6:52). What did they fail to understand? What should they have concluded from having seen the miracle of the loaves? Mark indicates that they should have known something that would have led them to accept the miracle of calming the sea with a sense of confirmation rather than astonishment.
Bread is first mentioned in Jesus' ministry when Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stones to bread. Jesus replied, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4). Most of us note that the quotation is from Deut 8:3 but look no further. In the first of his three farewell sermons to the Israelites, Moses actually said, "And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut 8:3). Jesus' quotation was not a statement revealed by God, but a conclusion that the Israelites should have drawn from the miracle of the manna. Jesus touched on this when he said, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life," and, "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world….I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." (John 6:27, 33-35). After the bread of life discourse, the disciples understood that Jesus had the words of eternal life, but they did not understand that he was the Word. Just as the Israelites failed to understand the lesson of the manna until instructed by Moses, the apostles failed to understand the message of the feeding of the five thousand.
But, Mark does not mention the disciples' hardness of heart and failure to comprehend the feeding of the five thousand until after Jesus calmed the sea. Truly, as Matthew says, they worshipped him as the Son of God, and just as truly, Mark says they had already missed something that should have kept them from being shocked by this miracle.
In feeding the five thousand, Jesus took the role of God feeding Israel the manna. The five thousand were in the wilderness just as was Israel. Jesus replaced God in this event and fed the multitude the bread of heaven that appeared from nothing by the hands of God, just as had the manna. Even before the calming of the sea, they should have seen that he was proclaiming himself to be God by this miracle. Had they done so, they would not have been "utterly astounded" at the calming of the sea. They would have seen it as just another proof of his identity -- certainly wonderful, but not something new.
That Old Testament miracle was designed to teach Israel that man lives by the word of God, not bread. We can say this. We can even say, "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matt 6:25). But, when we begin to give account in the night watches, we often find that we have spent more time wishing for things than praying to God; we have spent more money on our pleasures than we have given to God and the poor; we have learned new skills to keep our jobs but cannot learn the words of li
A prophet would proclaim that we have not learned the lesson of the feeding of the five thousand that Jesus is to be heard as God and he is life, feed on him. Our church-going souls are starving while the cushioned pews are littered with fish and manna.