I once heard a scholar, interviewed on a TV special about Jesus, refer to the feeding of the five thousand with the phrase “dinner and a show.” His point was, I think, to characterize Jesus' ministry as “meeting folks where they are.” And that is surely part of the meaning of this episode.
Responding in heartfelt compassion. to the people’s needs, Jesus healed them and fed them. But there are other dimensions to the account as well. Characterizing the Galilean seaside as a “desert” place surely evokes the memory of Israel in the wilderness and Jesus as a new Moses mediating manna for the wanderers invited into a new Exodus.
The similarity to the account in 2 Kings 4:24-44 about Elisha feeding one hundred with twenty loaves reminds us that a prophet greater than Elisha is here. And no one misses the parallel between Jesus' gestures here—taking, blessing, and breaking the loaves and giving them to his disciples—and his actions at the Last Supper. What catches my attention this time is the role of the disciples. Told to feed the people, they think only of their own meager resources.
When they heed Jesus’ command, “Bring them to me,” the people are abundantly fed. That reminds us disciples, ordained and nonordained alike, that our part in the mission does not depend on our own poor resources but on bringing others to the feeder and healer himself, Jesus.