Summary: August 4, 2002 -- ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST -- Proper 13 Isaiah 55:1-5 Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22 (Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21 NRSV) You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. (Ps. 145:17) Romans 9:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21 Color:
August 4, 2002 -- ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST -- Proper 13
You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. (Ps. 145:17)
Title: “The basis for Christian ministry is trustful obedience.”
Feeding the Five Thousand
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Moved with compassion, Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish to feed the crowd.
In Matthew’s order of events this first feeding story follows the flashback about the death of John the Baptist, which also took place in the context of a banquet. The contrast is intentional. At Herod’s banquet, symbolizing how people of this world enjoy themselves, there is pride, conspiracy, resentment and murder, all taking place in the lovely and comfortable surroundings of a royal court, a guarded place. At Jesus’ banquet there is healing, trustful obedience, sharing and unity, all taking place in an open field, a deserted place. Matthew has taken this story from Mark 6: 35-44, shortened it, and upgraded the image of the disciples. He wants to show what happens when disciples follow the commands of Jesus- the results are abundant, miraculous, stupendous. In Mark the disciples misunderstand much of what takes place and need explanations at every turn. In Matthew they show more understanding and function better as disciples, but they still need growth in faith.
The Old Testament background for this story is 2 Kings 4: 42-44, the feeding of a hundred men by Elisha with only twenty loaves of barley and some fresh ears of grain. There and in this story we find a small amount of food available, the servant protesting that; “It cannot be done” with so little, the successful feeding of the many and the surprising amount left over. Also the notation that the setting was “deserted,” reminds of the feeding with manna in the desert in Exodus 16. Jewish expectation of a return of manna when the Messiah comes suggests it was a messianic gesture. So, besides reminding of the past, the story looks to the future, immediate, the Eucharist and distant the eschatological messianic banquet at the end of time, as in Isaiah 25: 6.
The early church loved this story, so much that it is told twice in Mark and Matthew and is the only miracle story told by all four evangelists. They saw it as a lesson on the Eucharist. John has a long reflection on the “Bread of Life,” how revelation, the word, became Eucharist, the word-made-flesh, in Jesus. While the synoptic writers did not elaborate so much as John, there is ample symbolism in the way they tell the story to point to the Eucharist. In fact, it is so hard to separate what factually happened from its symbolic overtones that some have gone so far as to see only symbolism, no real miracle, in the story; an error, to be sure.
In verse thirteen, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.” Matthew has already used the sending forth of the twelve in chapter ten, so he could not use the apostles’ return from mission to introduce this story, as did Mark (6: 30-31). Instead, he uses the report of the Baptist’s death (14: 2) as foil for contrasting Herod’s banquet with that of Jesus.
“to a deserted place by himself:” The location is obviously the Sea of Galilee, not a desert around for miles. In fact, there was the sea and towns near enough to buy food. However, the Greek word eremos, is meant to allude to ancient Israel’s wanderings in the desert and God’s feeding Israel with manna.