Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel …
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. They all ate and were satisfied … (verses 29-31, 36-37)
It’s Mark who makes it clear this event occurred in the region of the Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile area on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31). It must have been right near the spot where Jesus previously healed two demon-possessed men.
Although Matthew doesn’t specifically name the location, the details of his story imply it occurred among a Gentile crowd, for (1) the people praise “the God of Israel” (verse 31), as Gentiles would, (2) the location is a “remote place,” indicating the eastern shore of Galilee, and (3) the word for “basket” refers to a Gentile-type, rather than the specifically Jewish “basket” indicated in the feeding of the five thousand.
So, it seems clear that Jesus left one Gentile area (“the region of Tyre and Sidon”) and moved to another. He doesn’t avoid Gentiles – indeed he seeks them out. His reticence to heal the demon-possessed daughter of the Canaanite woman (in the previous passage) doesn’t mean Gentiles are excluded by any means, for now his blessings are lavishly poured out on them, too. And his statement to the woman that he was sent “only to the lost sheep of Israel,” seems to indicate priority, rather than exclusivity, for now Gentiles receive his abundance, likewise. Indeed, they are about to receive the same kind of miraculous feast of bread and fish previously received by the Jewish crowds.
But first, there are the healings. “The lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others,” all were made well at Jesus’ hand. Matthew, making it clear, repeats the fact by telling us, “the people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing,” a piece of redundant story-telling that serves to drive the point home. The signs of the kingdom are breaking-in on Gentiles, too.
And then there is the overflow of food. Jesus gives thanks, breaks bread, passes fish, and feeds the multitude, a crowd of four thousand men, likely indicating close to ten thousand people, once women and children are also included.
It all prepares us for the expansive command Jesus will later pronounce: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:20). No one is excluded. No one is left out. Hallelujah! The whole world is included in Jesus’ healing and salvation and abundant provision.
The story of the feeding of the four thousand makes it clear.
Lord Jesus, thank you for your expansive embrace. You have included even me. Praise your name. And your work is not done – there are so many more yet who need to be embraced in healing and salvation and provision. Your kingdom come, your will be done. To your glory, Lord. Amen.
Reflect: Think of some of the people in your own line of sights who need to be included in this expansive embrace of Jesus. Pray for them by name. Trust them into Jesus’ hands. Make yourself available for the Lord to use in the process.