Sunday at church we discussed the feeding of the five thousand with high school youth group. The message related the feeding to our lives as a message of hope and having faith--really believing that God will give us what we need. But we never really talked about what the story is really about.
The story takes place in Baithsaida, north-east of the Sea of Galilee, an extremely poor area of an already poor region. Jesus and his disciples went there to get away. I like to imagine Jesus and his disciples gathered around a campfire telling stories of the healing and casting out of demons that Jesus empowered them to do. They were probably short on provisions themselves since they were not the richest folks either.
Then crowds of people found them. It's hard to say what type of people these were, but it's safe to say that when the disciples noticed that they were hungry it probably wasn't because they wanted lunch because breakfast was three hours ago. They probably looked hungry, like they hadn't eaten in days. The disciples, in their empathy, told Jesus to let them go and feed themselves, but Jesus knew they couldn't. These people simply could not take care of themselves, that's why they were hungry in the first place. So Jesus tells the disciples to feed them, and miraculously they are fed.
This story is about poverty, as is more of the Bible than we likely notice. The disciples are being taught that the poor are their responsibility, even if they have nothing to give them. How often do we say "let them feed themselves" when we should be feeding them? The ironic thing is that we have the resources, we don't even need a miracle.