Well, seems like déjà vu! Another miraculous feeding story on top of the one just a couple of chapters ago. That first feeding story of the 5000 took place in Jewish territory and presented Jesus as the messiah of the Jews bringing the promised abundance of God’s New Exodus to his people. The 12 baskets of food gathered as leftovers from the 5 loaves and two fish symbolized this.
The present story is set in Gentile territory and has a different quantity of leftovers, 7 baskets, and uses a different word than the one used in the first story which had Jewish connections being used to carry kosher food. Further, Mark describes the people as “come from a great distance” of “afar,” a description associated with Gentiles (e.g., Dt. 28:49; 29:22; 1 Kgs. 8:41; Isa. 39:3; 60:4; cf. Eph. 2:13, 17; Acts 2: 39). What about the 7? 7 and its multiples represent the seven Gentile nations of Canaan (Dt.7:1; Acts 13:19). It was often believed that the world consisted of 70 nations (Gen 10).
These and a number of other details make it apparent that this second feeding extends Jesus’ reach as messiah into the Gentile world. Messiah was believed to be the ruler of the world as well as king of the Jews. This story does not have Jesus teaching the people that the former has. The emphasis here is on the provision of food for the hungry.
It’s not surprising in this section of Mark with its theme of Jesus at work in Gentile lands to find this feeding story. Messiah brings the abundance of New Exodus even into the Gentile world.
Jesus involves his disciples as in the earlier story. God will use us to spread and distribute his abundance to the world, Jewish or Gentile. No anti-Semitism or arbitrary narrowing of the church’s concern and care for the world are allowed. All are included!
This is not simple humanitarianism, though. Mark tells us Jesus has “compassion” (v.2). Jesus is the hungry peoples only hope here. And he responds as God characteristically responds – with compassion. Jesus responds to human need here was a lavish generosity that betokens the goodness of God who causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust and who promises a world that includes and provides for everyone.
And Jesus calls us to participate in being the blessing God intends to share with his world!