29Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there.
30And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them,
31so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.
32Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
33And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?”
34And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.”
35And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground,
36he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
37And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
38Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.
39And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.
While the book of Matthew is largely comprised of Jesus’ ministry to the Children of Israel, today’s reading takes yet an additional departure from that focus audience. Yesterday, we read of His is healing of a Canaanite woman’s child, thus extending His reach beyond just the Jewish nation into the world of the Gentiles. Today’s story moves in a similar direction without abandoning the Jews. Just as Jesus was moved by the impassioned plea of the Canaanite woman, so He is also moved by His compassion as the people of the Decapolis approach Him with their sick and broken family members and friends.
There is much debate among Bible scholars as to who is in the crowd at the feeding of the 4,000. While the feeding of the 5,000 appears to be a Jewish audience, the make-up of this crowd is less certain. Some have speculated that these two readings are actually just the same story told twice, but that doesn’t really make much sense and there are too many differences to make that a viable conclusion. The overriding similarity remains the compassionate nature of Christ as He seeks to meet the needs of those who are surrounding Him. His heart is first and foremost moved by His compassion for the people.
The placement of this story makes the chances of this being a largely Gentile audience very likely. Thus Jesus can show to His disciples that His message and His love extend to ALL people, not just the Jews. This is an important distinction and one that will grow in importance later as the Disciples are spreading the Gospel to the entire world (as recorded for us in the Book of Acts). You will notice that there is no recorded conversation between Jesus and the crowd as to who they are and if they are Jews. He simply serves them first with healing and then with food. He meets their needs – all of them. That’s what Jesus does for us too. He comes to us with the ability, power, and will to meet all of our needs, reaching out to us with His great compassion. We are the same as those who gathered on the hillside that day to receive from His hands all that He has to offer. We come broken and sick and He takes care of us – not asking us to explain ourselves or offer up a pedigree. He gives – we receive.