You may be surprised to hear that this is the only miracle that is recorded in all four of the gospels. But that fact makes the feeding of the 5000 no more historically true than a miracle that is recorded in only a single gospel (like the turning of water into wine in John 2). It does, however, present us with the opportunity to discover details in one account that may have not been included in another.
Feeding people was not their responsibility! Jesus had previously sent the disciples out with the job of healing and preaching. Feeding hadn’t been in their job description. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us that Luke’s gospel tells us the disciples recommended that Jesus “send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging…” (Lk. 9:12) Sure, nourishment was a real need, but they didn’t do food. I wonder, do we miss out on real opportunities to serve others because we don’t see it as something we should do?
Feeding people was a financial impossibility! Some commentators estimate that the 5,000 men could have represented 20,000 total people (counting women and children). John’s gospel points out Philip’s response, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (Jn. 6:7) Indeed, he was right. Money is a limited commodity. While it is vitally important to many aspects of meaningful ministry, it is not the sum total, and it can only make a small dent in a world filled with needs. I wonder, is our tendency to throw money at a need when God would have us be more personally involved in the lives of people?
Once Jesus made clear that this was a need they were to meet…once He communicated that the solution was not financial resources…once the five fish and two loaves were placed in His hands, the disciples became an integral part of blessing thousands of people. They were the ones distributing the food (Lk. 9:16). They were the ones collecting the leftovers (Jn. 6:12, 13). They participated in meeting a need, for which they wanted to take no responsibility. They participated in meeting a need that money could not address. And on that day, not only were fish and loaves multiplied, but so was their understanding of ministry and compassion.