This miracle is difficult to summarize because it is not clear at what time of the year the event took place. This information is important because of the hours of available daylight and the day/night temperatures at the time of the event. It is also strange that no mention is made of the Romans. There would have been a garrison and several outposts in the area which may have been patrolled by by Roman soldiers. I am sure the Romans would have kept an eye on the movement of people and would have been interested to know why so many people were leaving the towns and villages and where they were going.
So, it appears likely that this event took place in the Spring around the time of the Passover celebrations in March-April when people were on the move. Hours of daylight in the area of the Sea of Galilee in the Spring average 11 to 13 hours between 6.00 am and 7.00 pm and the average temperature varies from 11 to 30 degrees Celsius. Also, mention is made of how much grass was growing in the area at that time, which is a strong indication of early to mid Spring growth.
The location of the event is not clear either but general opinion is it took place near Bethsaida. There is also doubt about the number of people who where at the event. Some interpretations of the story claim there was 5000 people, not including (or beside) women and children. Does this mean there was only men in the multitude? If not, then the number of people present may have been greater than 5000.
The reason this information is important is because, it is written that, as evening approached, the disciples advised Jesus that they were in a remote place and it was already getting late (perhaps around 3.00 to 5.00 pm) so he should send the crowd away to allow them to go to the villages in the area to buy something to eat and to find lodgings for the night. Jesus replied “they do not have to go away. You give them something to eat.”
In at least one version of the story Jesus then asked his disciples to separate the crowd into groups of about 50 people. But this would have taken quite some time to organize and as evening was rapidly approaching, any delay could entail feeding the people in the dark. So, I shall go with the version where Jesus did not ask the disciples to separate the multitude into groups, did not refer to women and children but simply asked his disciples to “have the men sit down on the grass.
Miraculously, a boy was standing nearby with a basket containing five loaves of unleavened bread and two fishes. Where did this boy come from? Where were his parents? Jesus asked for the basket to be brought to him. Jesus took the the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves and gave them with the two fish to his disciples to distribute to the people who were now seated.
This is where the story begins to lack detail. Because the men were now seated, it would have been easier and quicker for Jesus to have the food dropped into the laps of the people in a similar way that ‘manna’ was dropped from heaven. But for some reason, Jesus wanted the disciples to distribute the food. This meant that each disciple had to feed over 400 people.
Also, nothing is written about what species of fish were distributed. The Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake which supports several species of fish. Did God provide 5000 fish of the same species? Was the fish cleaned, filleted or baked? Or did the people eat raw fish ‘sushi style’? Nor is there any mention of the need for drinking water. Did the crowd carry their own water bags?
So how did the disciples feed the people? Perhaps Jesus took the basket from the boy and miraculously duplicated it so there was 12 baskets full of a never-ending supply of bread and fish. Jesus then passed the baskets to the disciples who walked among the people distributing the contents until the crowd were all fed and satisfied. I state this because, it is written, that there was 12 baskets of left-overs after the crowd had finished eating. So I have to assume this is how the people were fed.
Try to imagine how long it would take each of the 12 disciples to serve over 400 people who were sitting on the ground spread over a large area.
While the disciples were feeding the people, perhaps Jesus was preaching his message to the people. How Jesus could make his voice heard by 5000 people at the same time from the same spot is a mystery. Some interpretations of the story state that perhaps a wind blowing off the Sea of Galilee would have carried his voice to all the people. Maybe this is possible but the wind may well have distorted his voice instead. So, it may be that, as the disciples walked among the people distributing the food, Jesus was also walking among the people repeating his message as he moved through the the seated crowd.
Because of the lack of detail, this ‘miracle’ story lacks substance and leaves too many unanswered questions. But who am I to raise doubts about a miraculous event that took place 2000 years ago?