Both Matthew and Mark record an additional miraculous feeding of large crowds. All four Gospels record the feeding of the 5,000 (Mat. 14:15-21), only the first two record the feeding of the 4,000 (Mat. 15:32-39). Some suppose that a literary doubling has taken place, but there are differences. For one, the numbers are different. Not only is the size of the crowd different, the number of loaves and fishes are different. The first miracles feeds 5,000+ with five loaves of bread and two fish, the second feeds 4,000+ with seven loaves of bread and “a few” fish. He feeds less with more. The number of baskets that are left over are also different, but as the types of baskets are different I am not sure what the quantitative difference actually is. But it is not these differences that I want to look at in this post, it is the difference in the disciples themselves.
Now at first glance there is no difference. How can the disciples be so stupid in not seeing that Jesus can feed these 4,000 after he has already fed the 5,000? But is that a fair reading of the disciples? In the first feeding the disciples approach Jesus before the first day was over, in the second feeding Jesus calls the disciples to himself after the third day. I think the Lutheran commentator R. L. Lenski is correct in seeing this as an indication that they trusted Jesus to take care of the situation.
But what about their answer to Jesus? Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude? Well, where indeed would they get the bread? From Christ? Yes indeed, they put the provision of the crowd back into the hands of Jesus Christ. Jesus takes the seven loaves of bread and few fish and proceeds to feed the 4,000 men plus women and children. Instead of seeing the disciples as stupid and faithless, we should acknowledge that this time they remember to put the whole affair in the hands of their Lord. In the span of two chapters Matthew has painted a picture of maturing faith in the apostolic band. Certainly Jesus will have many more opportunities to rebuke their little faith, but this time their faith gives all the glory to Christ, and there in nothing in that to rebuke.