I once had a mentor who said, “A good teacher repeats basic lessons….let me say that a gain, a good teacher repeats basic lessons.” We had a good laugh at that, every time he said it. And you can tell that the quote is firmly carved into memory.
Why is there a feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14 and a feeding of the 4,000 in Matthew 15? Many scholars suggest that this incident stemmed from the same event in Jesus life, and through time the story details changed. Matthew did not know that and so he included both. These same scholars also suggest other alternatives to the miraculous aspect of the story – maybe when Jesus gave thanks for the loaves and fish, embarrassed people who had hoarded food in their pockets began to share….
Well, if we allow that God might exist and that God who created the world could be capable of miracle, then is there another explanation?
If we read the two passages there are similarities and differences. The first miracle is on the West side of the sea of Galilee, and reflects some Old Testament themes – it is reminiscent of how Moses divided the people into groups, and how the Lord gave bread to feed them. Hence Jesus is a kind of new Moses – leader and liberator of the people.
The second miracle is on the East side of the Sea of Galilee and it is among gentile or Jewish and gentile mixed population. It follows an series of miracles for which this group gives praise to “the God of Israel.” and it seems to be a sign for inclusion of the non-Jewish people.
Other differences are the number, the names and number of the baskets, the number of loaves and so forth.
The big similarity and problem is that the Disciples ask the same question the second time as they did the first. why did not they remember the first feeding and extrapolate that Jesus could do it again? Could they be that dense?
If we are reading what it does say, the difference between a Jewish audience and a Gentile audience is significant. the first has to to with Jesus fulfilling a role in the history of Israel (i.e. Messiah). the second has to do with the ability of the “God of Israel” to meet the needs of the people, for the feeding of the 4,000 follows a passage on healings.
The meaning also has to do with seeing. The disciples as well as the Sadducees and Pharisees seemed to be blind to the meaning of Jesus’ works among them. It would have to be the Lord who would give “insight”, or sight to the spiritually blind.
This is reinforced by the difference in order of those healed in Mt 15:30-31
v. 30 : Lame, Blind, Crippled, Mute
v. 31: Mute, Crippled, Lame, Blind.
Notice that the order is reversed AND the blind are pulled out and made last. this is a way to point on that the theme here is blindness. And that the problem of spiritual blindness is greater than the problem of physical blindness.
Before we think the text is stupid, because it seems repetitive, we should ask if it might be we who are stupid.