"In those days, when there was again a great multitude, and they had nothing to eat, He called unto Him His disciples, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; and some of them are come from afar. And His disciples answered Him, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? And He asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. And He commandeth the multitude to sit down on the ground: and He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He brake, and gave to His disciples, to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. And they had a few small fishes: and having blessed them, He commanded to set these also before them. And they did eat, and were filled: and they took up, of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets. And they were about four thousand: and He sent them away. And straightway He entered into the boat with His disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha." MARK 8:1-10 (R.V.).
WE now come upon a miracle strangely similar to that of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. And it is worthwhile to ask what would have been the result, if the Gospels which contain this narrative had omitted the former one. Skepticism would have scrutinized every difference between the two, regarding them as variations of the same story, to discover traces of the growth of the myth or legend, and entirely to discredit it. Now however it is plain that the events are quite distinct; and we cannot doubt but that information as full would clear away as completely many a perplexity which still entangles us. Archbishop Trench has well shown that the later narrative cannot have grown out of the earlier, because it has not grown at all, but fallen away. A new legend always "outstrips the old, but here . . . the numbers fed are smaller, the supply of food is greater, and the fragments that remain are fewer." The latter point is however doubtful. It is likely that the baskets, though fewer, were larger, for in such a one St. Paul was lowered down over the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25). In all the Gospels the Greek word for baskets in the former miracle is different from the latter. And hence arises an interesting coincidence; for when the disciples had gone into a desert place, and there gathered the fragments into wallets, each of them naturally carried one of these, and accordingly twelve were filled. But here they had recourse apparently to the large baskets of persons who sold bread, and the number seven remains unaccounted for. Skepticism indeed persuades itself that the whole story is to be spiritualized, the twelve baskets answering to the twelve apostle who distributed the Bread of Life, and the seven to the seven deacons. How came it then that the sorts of baskets are so well discriminated, that the inferior ministers are represented by the larger ones, and that the bread is not dealt out from these baskets but gathered into them?
The second repetition of such a work is a fine proof of that genuine kindness of heart, to which a miracle is not merely an evidence, nor rendered useless as soon as the power to work it is confessed. Jesus did not shrink from thus repeating Himself, even upon a lower level, because His object was not spectacular but beneficent. He sought not to astonish but to bless.
It is plain that Jesus strove to lead His disciples, aware of the former miracle, up to the notion of its repetition. With this object He marshaled all the reasons why the people should be relieved. "I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and if I send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; and some of them are come from far." It is the grand argument from human necessity to the Divine compassion. It is an argument which ought to weigh equally with the Church. For if it is promised that "nothing shall be impossible" to faith and prayer, then the deadly wants of debauched cities, of ignorant and brutal peasantries, and of heathenisms festering in their corruptions - all these, by their very urgency, are vehement appeals instead of the discouragements we take them for. And whenever man is baffled and in need, there he is entitled to fall back upon the resources of the Omnipotent.
It may be that the disciples had some glimmering hope, but they did not venture to suggest anything; they only asked, Whence shall one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place? It is the cry of unbelief - our cry, when we look at our resources, and declare our helplessness, and conclude that possibly God may interpose, but otherwise nothing can be done. We ought to be the priests of a famishing world (so ignorant of any relief, so miserable), its interpreters and intercessors, full of hope and energy. But we are content to look at our empty treasuries, and ineffective organizations, and to ask, Whence shall a man be able to fill these men with bread?
They have ascertained however what resources are forthcoming, and these He proceeds to use, first demanding the faith which He will afterwards honor, by bidding the multitudes to sit down. And then His loving heart is gratified by relieving the hunger which it pitied, and He promptly sends the multitude away, refreshed and competent for their journey.