When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him.
He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them.
Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.
They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
The disciples went all over the area, without bread, without an extra shirt, without even a bag. The various towns took care of them and heard their message and now everyone wants to see this Jesus the disciples talked about.
The hospitality and interest they had as they traveled was a miracle, but the disciples didn’t realize that. Nobody on this fallen planet needed to hear their message or welcome them. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, everyone is sold over to sin and rebellion in some way. And yet, God was working in people to show them mercy and turn them towards the good news of Jesus.
As the people listen to Jesus, they themselves know it’s getting late and that food is going to be hard to come by. You have to figure that they didn’t even care. They were going to figure that out later. Right now, they just wanted to keep listening to Jesus teach. Anybody that was hungry could have left anytime and gone to a nearby city for some food.
But the people that stayed — oh gosh! Think of the story they got to tell. Not only did they hear every bit of Jesus’ teaching to the end, but they got to see a miracle on the level of Manna in the wilderness. Food out of nowhere! Plenty to eat for everyone! Fish to eat where there is no lake!
They sat down in their groups of 50 or so friends and strangers and ate their fill. They might go home in those same groups. 50 people in every village that had heard a day of Jesus’ teaching and seen His miraculous works. It was like the next step of church planting after sending the disciples out to all of the villages. Now you have a couple of dozen people in every town that can meet together and grow.
The miracle of proclamation, hospitality, and community was all part of Jesus’ plan to build and grow His kingdom. He is still working in the same way today.