Mark 8 tells what seems to be a very similar story to the feeding of the 5000 recorded just 2 chapters earlier. I say seems to be similar because there are some key differences that help us understand what Jesus' mission entails.
The most obvious difference is that Jesus feeds 4000 men in chapter 8, slightly down from the 5000 men of chapter 6. But this figure seems to be somewhat arbitrary in light of the other glaring difference. The focus this time is not so much on how many but on who.
This miraculous feeding takes place in Gentile territory!
The first feast was given somewhere slightly north and west of the Sea of Galilee - prime Jewish hill country. This second feast is hosted in the region of the Decapolis, south of the Sea and east of the Jordan river. This crowd of 4000 men would have been predominately Gentile for not many Jews lived east of the Jordan.
It's also possible, when comparing the two stories, that the Gentile crowds had stayed with Jesus longer and traveled farther than the Jewish crowds had. They were truly hungry for the Bread.
Another interesting, more subtle difference is that in chapter 6 the disciples were the ones who brought to Jesus' attention the need for the crowds to eat something. In chapter 8 Jesus is the one who first brings up the physical needs of the people. Could it be that the disciples cared more about their fellow Jews while Jesus cared equally for both Jews and non-Jews?
In both events Jesus had compassion on the people, which was the motivating factor behind the provision. In both events Jesus took a small lunch and turned it into enough to feed thousands. In both the crowds ate until they were stuffed. And in both Jesus actually provided more than enough to meet the need.
One crowd was Jewish. One crowd was Gentile.
It's brilliant that this miraculous feast in Gentile territory comes almost immediately after Jesus' run-in with the Greek woman in Tyre. Jesus told her that it's not right to take the children's food and toss it to their dogs. The woman answered that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the table.
In a way we're all dogs, simply begging for whatever scraps God might toss our way. We believe that we're not worthy to sit at the table with him and eat a whole meal - so we become content with low expectations. But even the crumbs from God's table are more than enough. The crumbs healed the woman's daughter. The crumbs fed thousands of men until they had to loosen their belts.
If that's what God's crumbs can do, imagine the day when we get to sit down with him and share in the ultimate feast!