If Herod is the pretend king who throws a feast for himself where food is brought to him, food resulting from death, then Jesus is a different kind of king altogether. Jesus is the true king who calls a feast in order to feed his people with life giving bread. The Feeding of the Five Thousand is therefore juxtaposed with Herod’s execution of John the Baptist..
Jesus and his disciples have themselves gone away from the crowds because they need space for rest and to eat. Yet, they don’t get much chance for this because the multitudes follow them. Jesus is then compared to a shepherd and the people like sheep. In other words, this builds on the theme of food and provision. They need a shepherd who will provide for them and protect them, someone to feed them. Jesus is that good shepherd. Jesus feeds the people first with living, spiritual food as he teaches them. He will go on to provide physical food in response to their hunger too.
The miracle is also about faith. Will the disciples trust Jesus? They come to him and ask him what to do about food. Should they send the people away or try to buy food for them. This just after Jesus has sent them out with nothing and they’ve seen him work powerfully through them and provide for them. Note this is emphasised as they are referred to as apostles.
Jesus insists that they should provide and so they turn out what they can find, a few bits of bread ad fish, a small picnic lunch. However, in Jesus’ hands, this becomes a satisfying feast, not just enough, more than enough. Twelve baskets left over remind us with numerical symbolism that Jesus’ provides enough overflow for the apostles to have a basket each. Jesus is able to provide an abundance for the twelve new tribes of Israel.
We see here in Jesus a shepherd king greater than David. We are also reminded of how God provided bread (manna) for the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus is greater than Moses.
The passage reminds us that Jesus is the one we can trust in and depend upon. He is our good shepherd. Psalm 23 tells us that because the Lord is our shepherd, we will not lack. We can trust Jesus with every aspect of our lives.
We are reminded too that the most urgent food is not physical food but that we need God’s Word to live. This should also increase our compassion. Are we concerned to see spiritually hungry people fed with God’s Word?
We are challenged. Will we respond in faith? Will we trust Jesus to provide and to protect?