Matthew 15:32-39, The “dogs” feast on crumbs!

When you think about Jesus, one of the most important questions is this: Does he care only about the few, or does he care about all? Keeping in mind that Matthews intended first audience was Jewish Christians, those who had given their allegiance to the promised Messiah, how might Matthew have decided to answer that question? After all, his first audience grew up thinking that Gods kindness was intended for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The answer is that Matthew decided to let Jesus show them the truth.

Matthew 15:32-39

32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way. 33 His disciples answered, Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd? 34 How many loaves do you have? Jesus asked. Seven, they replied, and a few small fish. 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.


How this account advances Jesus message

Perhaps part of the justification for extending Gods kindness to the Gentiles was the example of the Canaanite woman and her astounding faith in the compassion of Jesus (Matthew 15:21-28). Her insightful response to Jesus showed that she understood Jesus had a primary commitment to the Jews (15:27). Her view was that even the Gentile dogs could feast on the crumbs falling from the Master’s table. The feeding of the four thousand (plus) Gentiles proves her point in concrete terms.

R. T. France does the best job of looking at the wider scale of Matthews Gospel and explaining what Matthew had in mind by this second feeding miracle:

If the purpose of the second story is to invite comparison with the first, it is only to be expected that it should be told in a way that recalls the first except for the points of difference is meant to be noted; and that is just what we find in this [account].[1]

The major points of difference between The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matthew 14:14-21) and The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Matthew 15:32-38) are these: (1) the first showed Jesus compassion toward the Jews while the second showed his mercy toward the Gentiles; (2) greater numbers of Jews were fed than Gentiles. If we flash forward to the Apostle Paul, we find the same emphasis: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

Now, my brothers and sisters, we must face a correction. For centuries the church of Jesus Christ has ignored the fact that Jesus is a Jew! The very word Christ means the anointed one, the Messiah. Jesus came first to the Jews and only then to the Gentiles like us. Paul calls us wild olive branches and the Jews the natural olive branches (Romans 11:17-24). We must learn from Matthew and Paul to understand our abundantly blessed place as fellow heirs to those who came before us in Christ.

If you have ever expressed prejudice against Jews, how might that be offensive to Christ and how will you behave toward Jews in the future?

The Feeding of the Four Thousand (Gentiles)

The account of the astounding miracle that Jesus performed in feeding this great crowd has both high points and low points. Since we all love good news, we begin where the story begins, with the compassion of Jesus for the people (verse 32). They have been so astonished by his miracles of healing and his caring for them that they do not want to leave, and their supplies for the journey have run out. Jesus cares about the danger they face even though they have ignored it. (Or perhaps they were expecting him to deal with whatever might happen.) The first high point is the compassion of Jesus for the people.

Ah, but the low point comes next. The disciples mistakenly assume that Jesus has summoned them to fix the problem! An overly literal translation of verse 33 might be: Where to us in an uninhabited region is bread enough so as to satisfy such a multitude? Well, duh, sitting right next to them is Jesus, the greatest creator of bread in the history of the world! And they have seen him do it before.

Jesus mercifully overlooks this interruption and determines what resources are available (verse 34). After giving thanks, Jesus took the bread and fish and kept on giving them to the disciples (HCSB)[2] to distribute to the people until everyone had eaten plenty (verses 36-37). More was left over than they started with! Having protected the crowd for their journey, Jesus dismissed them and sailed away (verse 39).

As it happens, we don’t know the location of Magadan (verse 39), Jesus destination, but we do know that the next part of Matthews account finds Jesus and his disciples back among the Jews on the western side of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 16:1). Later in Matthews Gospel, Jesus will return to the theme of his plans for the Gentiles.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 601.
[2] Greek imperfect tense, implying ongoing action.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!