My Sunday School Class (now on-line) last Sunday morning considered verses 1 through 21 of chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. We covered the Feeding of the Five Thousand (verses 1 through 15) and then, in verses 16 through 21, where Jesus Walks on Water. (The ESV editors provided those headings.) How do these two events, one after another, relate to each another? Was it simply a matter of temporal history? Or is it God trying to tell us something more, and, if so, what?
The commentators have been asking these sorts of questions for 2000 years and writing down their answers. Here is my go at them in a few words. I'm sure I have nothing new to say.
People have tried to explain away the Feeding of the Five Thousand in naturalistic terms. For example, when the disciples poll the crowd about the matter of food, only the little boy, in his innocence, discloses what he has - and then offers it. Other people had brought lunch as well, maybe in abundance, and the child's example led them to disclose and share. Still others had the resources beforehand to canvass the nearby towns for provisions, anticipating the problem that Jesus described. No miracle here. Move along.
Or maybe there was not such a crowd. Maybe it was much smaller. Whatever.
Then there is "Jesus Walks on Water." I think that's there because of God's grace for those readers who still didn't get it, after reading about the Feeding. In the Walk, we have Jesus' control over the elements, over physics, if you will, and over time itself. Is the Feeding not miracle enough for you? Then the God incarnate, the God of infinite mercy, offers this.
As to meaning, there are layers and layers more to do with both the Feeding (the first "Lord's Supper" or Eucharist for example), and the Walk. One sees more just in the balance of the chapter and elsewhere in Scripture. More of that later.