In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
(Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)
There is a sense of déjà vu about this story, since we read the Feeding of the 5,000 only six days (Mark 6.35-44), and now Mark tells us of the Feeding of the 4,000. Is this duplication a mistake? Well no, for he adds, 'there was again a great crowd without anything to eat', and the circumstances are different. The Feeding of the 5,000 appears in all four Gospels, the only miracle that does this, other than the Resurrection. However, the Feeding of the 4,000 appears in only Matthew and Mark's Gospels. We should note that the numbers mentioned are numbers of men present, excluding the women and children, so the crowd would have been much bigger.
One of the biggest differences between the two stories is the places where they occurred. The 5,000 happened in Jewish territory near Bethsaida (off the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee), and the 4,000 in Gentile country to the east or south-east of the Sea of Galilee in the Decapolis, the area of the ten Greek cities. Another difference is the Greek words used for 'baskets' - kophinous for the 5,000, ie small baskets, and spuridas for the 4,000, ie large baskets. The latter was big enough to hold a person as when Paul escapes from a city's wall in one (Acts 9.25). Jesus says: "Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?" If we ears to hear and eyes to see then we must surely assume the underlying message that God was calling the Jews and the Gentiles to Him.
A last thought, do you remember the story of the man who was healed from evil spirits in the Decapolis area, that Jesus wouldn't take with him, but sent him to take his message to others (Mark 5.18-20)? It seems to me he has done his work well in spreading the good news of the Gospel throughout the Decapolis area.
Lord Jesus Christ,
in Your compassion
You fed thousands of people with bread,
and in doing so passed the Gospel
message to many others.
Like a ribbon of truth
Your words spread around the area
to both Jew and Gentile.
May we too play our part in
passing on Your hope for our world,
especially to those who have heard
but who have rejected it.