Who is Jesus? How you answer this question determines how you approach the story. If Jesus was a good teacher; one of many wise men, then you can read about him and dissect his words and decide for yourself what makes sense in your life. Jesus becomes a buffet all full of options you can pick and choose from. But if he is something more; if he is who he claimed to be, well, then you are going to want to feast on his every word. Jesus is not a buffet, but rather a festive meal where every morsel is bursting with significance. When the Jewish people ate the Passover meal, skipping the bitter herbs part of the meal was not really an option. So, how do you see Jesus? Buffet or celebration meal?
Luke 9:10-17 does not have the question “Who is this man?” in it. However, prior to our passage, we have Herod asking this question and after our passage Jesus asked the disciples who people said he was. So, the story of the feeding of the five thousand is sandwiched with questions of who Jesus was. This implies that Luke saw in this story an answer to the question of Jesus’ identity.
The story begins with the return of the disciples. They had been sent out to preach the kingdom and to heal the weak. They return and give a full report of their mission. Jesus gathers them together and takes them to Bethsaida, most likely on the north eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This jaunt to the area was all about withdrawing, so Jesus was intending to be alone with his disciples. But, as so often is the case, ministry shifts our plans. The crowd – probably some of the same crowd mentioned a couple of times in chapter 8 – became aware of his plan and they followed him to Bethsaida (most likely to a remote area near the city). When Jesus sees the crowd he warmly welcomes them. You gotta love this guy. The plan was a quiet retreat with his disciples and this is disrupted by a throng of people. And Jesus kindly receives them and begins to speak to them about the kingdom of God and healing all who had need. So, basically, the same mission the disciples were sent out to do, is now being done by Jesus.
The day began to end, which is a poetic way of describing dusk. The disciples encourage Jesus to send the crowd on their way so that they can find lodging and food. They describe the area as a desolate place. And for a multitude of this size to be able to just break up and spread out and find places to stay and food to eat would have been difficult at best. But what else is to be done? It seems likely that the disciples are thinking of the people here and not just wanting to be rid of them so that they could take care of their own need to rest and eat. Jesus simply said, “You give them to eat!” I wonder if the disciples spluttered out a “Wha . . . Ho . . . What in the wor . . .” We know they responded with “Well, we only have five loaves and two fish. We would have to buy food to accomplish any good here.” It is implied that this option was not likely either. They are at a loss to know how to do what Jesus asked them to do. I get that. That happens to me too sometimes.
There are about five thousand men, which means that the size of the crowd was much larger since the women and children were not counted. Jesus tells the disciples to have them sit down. And Luke uses a rare and rather specific word here. It means to recline. You know, like how they would have reclined at table at a festive meal complete with guests and meaning. Like how they would have eaten the Passover and the other two major festival meals. The disciples have them sit down and then Jesus took the bread and fish, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples. And what is significant here is that the words and word order is close to the same as the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19) and to the Emmaus meal (Luke 24:30). Close enough to cause many to believe they are formulaic. Jesus took, gave thanks, broke, and gave. He is the host of the feast. He gave the food to the disciples so that they could in turn give it to the people. They can do what Jesus asked of them because Jesus gave. The twelve baskets of left overs may signify that Jesus is able to feed all of Israel.
Who is Jesus? He is the host of the feast. He is the one who provides so that we can in turn provide for others. He is the Passover Lamb. He is the one who leads us out of captivity. He takes, he blesses, he breaks, he gives. The Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist – is about acknowledging that we need to feast on Jesus’ every word. That it is only because of what he has given us, that we can help others. It is a celebration of the message and feast of Jesus. So, eat what he gives and hand it on to others. Feast it up.