And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away…
On the death of John the Baptist Jesus retired to the eastern side of the lake, oppressed with grief and longing for a time of seclusion. But it was one of his trials that he was forbidden the rest of privacy when he most craved it. The crowds followed him with such enthusiasm that they quite forgot to provide themselves with needful food, and therefore when the evening was come they were out among the lonely mountains faint and hurry. Jesus had not brought about this awkward situation. But he could not see distress without desiring to remove it. Thus there was an adequate occasion for the wonderful feeding of the thousands.
I. JESUS HAS COMPASSION ON BODILY DISTRESS. He had manifested this compassion earlier by healing the sick who were brought out to him in this remote region; and now the sight of the weary multitude touched his heart, as it became apparent to him that the evening shadows would find them far from home and without the means of providing themselves with their evening meal
1. The motive of Christ was compassion. This was the motive of his life work and of his atoning death. He came into the world because he took pity on the world's misery. The same motive moved him in particular actions. This is the grand Christian motive. The passion of pity is a peculiarly Christ-like feeling that seems to be rising among us in the present day.
2. The trouble was bodily distress - hunger. Then it is a Christ-like thing to feed the hungry. We are not to neglect men's bodies in caring for their souls.
II. JESUS HELPS THROUGH EARTHLY MEANS. He utilized the existing provisions. He did not create food out of nothing, but he wrought with the loaves and fishes already in hand. They were few, but he did not despise them, for they were invaluable in affording a foundation for his miracle. Christ now uses the instruments of human work. We have to contribute our share, and if we selfishly or despairingly refuse to do so we have no right to look for his blessing.
III. JESUS PRODUCES WONDERFUL PROVISIONS. We do not know how the miracle was wrought; we cannot even conceive of it. But we do not know how God makes the corn to grow in the fields. Nature only seems to us less wonderful than miracle because we are familiar with her external aspect and her visible processes. But behind all nature, as behind every miracle, there is the unfathomable mystery of life and being which God only understands. It is enough for us that our Lord is not thwarted, that there is nothing to which he sets his band in which he fails. He is powerful as well as pitiful. We bemoan the distress we cannot aid. When Christ is moved with compassion he helps effectively.
IV. JESUS SATISFIES THE HUNGRY. He gave no princely banquet, but mere loaves and fishes - the common barley loaves of the poor, the familiar fishes of the lake. His object was not to pamper jaded appetites - that was not needed in the keen mountain air; he simply fed the hungry. Moreover, he gave what he received, and of the same kind. He will bless our work according to its character and quality. He gives the increase, but it is according to the seed we sow - "after its kind." Surely this miracle is more than a miracle; it is a sacrament, a sacred symbol, as our Lord shows in the discourse that follows in St. John's account (John 6.). Christ is the real Bread of life, feeding hungry souls. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
WEB: When evening had come, his disciples came to him, saying, "This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food."