14 For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company.
15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.
16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
17 And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.
1901 ASV Translation:
14 For they were about five thousand men. And he said unto his disciples, Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.
15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.
16 And he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake; and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
17 And they ate, and were all filled: and there was taken up that which remained over to them of broken pieces, twelve baskets.
I. The Prelude Continued.
A. The disciples told Him to send the multitude away to find lodging and food.
B. He told them to feed the crowd.
C. They objected.
D. He told the disciples to organize the crowd into groups of 50 and seat them.
1. There were approximately 5,000 men (specifically "males") present. According to the issue of the number "5", this simply represents a thousand times the inadequacy that is wrapped up in fallen humanity ("five" is the number that signals "inadeqacy" in the same way that "three" signals "adequacy"). Thus, the "five" loaves was woefully inadequate. The "problem" with inadequate men is they think that if they multiply their inadequacy they will make it "go away".
2. Jesus told The Twelve to get them all seated in groups of 50. This may be no more than a record of the method Jesus was going to use to take care of the hunger, but it is interesting that John 6:10 simply says, "And Jesus said, Make the men sit down [Now there was much grass in the place] so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Now the point is this: John records a seemingly innocuous, "...there was much grass in the place" (as if that made some kind of difference??) and ignores the "fifties" issue while Luke tells us that Jesus told The Twelve that they were to divide them up into groups of fifty and ignores the "grass" issue. Matthew says that Jesus "commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass". Mark says Jesus "commanded them [The Twelve] to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass ... and they sat down in ranks by hundreds, and by fifties." Assuming that each author had his "point" to make and did not add extraneous information just to fill in space in the inspired writ, we seek to understand Luke's choice of words.
a. Dividing 5,000 men into units of 50 would make 100 such units (this might explain Mark's "by hundreds" comment).
b. Five loaves would make one loaf per thousand or 20 units of 50.
c. The way Luke constructs his record, it is clear that "The Twelve" need to be confronted with a task that is so huge in their eyes that they can see no way that they are "adequate" to it. They approach Jesus with a "bossy, self-sufficiency" and He confronts it head on. Luke's context is "tests of faith" as preparation for effective ministry. The issue in the chapter is whether men will "follow Jesus" or simply come up with their own ways of dealing with "the ministry" and its issues. It is no "accident" that there were "twelve" baskets of uneaten food after everyone had had "enough" (one basket per member of the bossy "Twelve"). Likewise we must conclude that it is no "accident" that the multitude was to be divided into groups of fifty. This was the preliminary to Jesus' demonstration that men could do what He told them to do if they would set aside their own attempts to "figure it out" and simply do what He says. But, why "groups of fifty"?
1) The groups of fifty would have made it possible to have a pretty accurate number of the assembled people.
2) The collective whole of groups of fifty would have made the task look even more impossible by deliberately magnifying the number.
3) Grouping the men into units of fifty would have made distributing the food a more manageable task. At this point Luke's record shifts from "The Twelve" to "His disciples" and it is very possible that the group of "disciples" was considerably larger than "twelve".
4) At issue, however, in Luke's record is this: Jesus' identity (9:9 compared with 9:18) in the face of the general confusion of the "crowds" and of the specific need of "the disciples" to know (9:20) because of the profound corruption of humanity (as evidenced by the knee-jerk bossiness of "The Twelve" toward "the Christ" -- the gravity of Sin that is so much a part of fallen man that he does not hesitate to be "bossy" toward God because he does not even recognize the trait for the evil that it is). Given this as the issue, all of the words are attuned to the presentation of it so that extraneous-to-this-issue words are omitted (such as "green grass"). Thus, we can conclude that the groups of fifty was both a way to emphasize the inadequacy of "The Twelve" and a way to structure their submission to Him.
E. They did as He instructed.
1. In a very real sense, the two phrases, "we have no more than..." and "they did so" are the heart and soul of this record. Even the profound bossiness of Sin is mitigated when an inadequate person simply responds to the words of Jesus with believing action.
2. That Luke records "and they did so, and made them all sit down" emphasizes the disciples' about-face because "they did so" refers to "Make them sit down" and "they made them all sit down" refers to the same thing. This type of redundancy is emphatic. At the very heart of Jesus' good news is the Father's willingness to accept "faith" in lieu of any type of demand that men conquer their depravity. There is a vast difference between "believing unto a particular obedience" and "conquering the cause of disobedience". If the Law could make one "live", righteousness could flow out of "Law" but man's bondage "under sin" ultimately has to have a "Life" that arises out of "faith in Jesus, the Christ" if he is to have any "life" at all (Galatians 3:21-22). At every point of "faith" two realities co-exist: first, "faith" is always in God and not oneself or one's adequacies; and second, "faith" is always the root of an immediate action to be taken. Faith without works is dead, but faith is not in the works.
II. The Event.
A. He took five loaves and two fish.
B. He looked to heaven.
C. He "blessed" the food.
D. He gave food to the disciples until all were fed. This was no small feat and it had to have been time consuming (there was a minimum of 100 groups and, likely, more).
E. When all were filled, the leftovers were gathered into twelve baskets. The prior reference to "twelve" is 9:12 (The Twelve) and the implication rests upon the fact that the outcome was a basket of fragments for each of the men who tried to tell Jesus how to function and how impossible it was to do what He initially commanded. We have no clue as to the size of the "baskets" (or even whence they came), but in any case they could hold more than the five loaves and two fish that a child had at the beginning (John 6:9).
III. The Point.
A. Jesus was able to feed five thousand men with five loaves and two fish.
B. Jesus was capable of being the Resource of Life for five thousand men. Clearly He was capable of being "the Christ", an identity not mentioned in the prior paragraph regarding Herod who was not capable of being a resource of Life for anyone. This is the point, given the following paragraph.
C. Jesus was interested in getting folks ready for participation in the Kingdom of God, not becoming the local Super Wal-Mart or being the tourist attraction for the businesses of Bethsaida.