Excerpts from Gil Bailie’s discussion of the Miracle of Fish and Loaves, in Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: Crossroad, 1995).
…Jesus seems to have found the popular appetite for miracles exasperating. At times he fled from crowds looking for a miracle worker, and he resolutely refused to perform miracles simply for the purpose of demonstrating his ability to perform them.
It is important, therefore, to remember that for a miracle to have genuine religious significance it must transform the human heart and that it was a transformation of the heart that Jesus brought about in those he deeply touched. Curing a crippled leg is not as miraculous as curing a hardened heart or a despairing soul. …The great miracle of Jesus' ministry was reconciliation—with God and with others. This, I think, is the starting point for understanding the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and the other miracles as well.
…Given the role of table fellowship in Jesus' ministry, it is my view that it was not primarily the lateness of the hour that made the unexpected sharing of a meal necessary, but rather that Jesus decided to drive home the points he had been making in his preaching by inviting his audience to sit down then and there for the purpose of sharing a meal with those around them. The point of the feeding, in my opinion, was not food; it was the breaking down of religious and social barriers that Jesus had been challenging as spiritually inconsequential in his preaching. It was hands-on learning. It was practice for living in the kingdom.
…By now the reader will have guessed what I think the miracle was. Jesus opened their hearts, and they, in turn, opened their satchels, and the greatest miracle of all occurred.