Sunday reflection: Matthew 14:13–21

posted at 12:01 pm on August 3, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 14:13–21:

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over — twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

A woman with several children was once asked how she divides her love between all of her offspring. “You don’t divide,” she replied. “You multiply.” And indeed, on the traditional site in Tabgha of this miracle sits the Church of the Multiplication, which dates back to the 5th century and has amazing mosaics on the floor. I visited there last year, and took this picture of the altar:

tabgha

This miracle turns our understanding of goods on its head, and also of how God’s grace works. The disciples must have thought that Jesus was joking when He told them that they could feed the crowd themselves. Five loaves and two fishes would make a fairly thin meal for the twelve of them and Jesus, plus any others traveling with them at the time. It’s an absurdly small amount for a hundred people, not even qualifying as a snack, let alone a meal. For thousands, one might as well turn the bread back into the grains of wheat from which it came and hope that it produced enough of them to hand a single grain to each person.

Under the circumstances, one would have expected to turn the crowd away hungry for the journey home, pity or not. That would reflect our common understanding of goods and mercy in human terms, as qualities which must be divided by necessity of material and time relative to the people who need to be served. We can only do so much, we think and believe, and that’s true — without God’s grace and mercy, only so much can be done.

Jesus demonstrated that God does not work through division, though, but through multiplication. The disciples looked out at the crowd with pity and mercy, but still only with corporeal understanding. Jesus understood that the real hunger in the crowd was spiritual. The crowd followed Jesus without direction to do so in order to hear Him teach and commune with Him, and Jesus put aside His plans to meet them as they came. And in doing so, He used the loaves and the fishes to satisfy both spiritual and physical hunger.

In our first reading from Isaiah 55:1-3, the prophet speaks of this outpouring of God’s grace to those who follow His way in terms of food and drink:

All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.

This too is about multiplication and not division. God’s grace is inexhaustible, and has no division. The more who come to the Lord, the more His grace flows abundantly.

But there is more to this miracle than just the fact of multiplication itself, amazing though that is. The event prefigures the Eucharist in a very key manner that applies to all Christians of any denomination. What does Jesus tell the disciples when they come to Him with their worry about the crowds and their hunger? “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” When the disciples protest that they have so little to give, Jesus instructs them to bring the food to Him for His blessing; He breaks it, and then hands it back to the disciples to distribute. He works the miracle through the disciples, who distribute the bread and fish to the crowds and end up with a huge surplus after everyone has their fill.

For Catholics such as myself, the parallels to the Liturgy of the Eucharist are obvious. The disciples present their sacrifice — the rather small meal they had prepared for their own consumption — to Christ. Jesus, the Head Priest of the Church, blesses and breaks the bread and has His concelebrants distribute the bread to bring the whole congregation into communion with God. The seemingly inadequate sacrifice gets transformed into food for the world, transforming us all into the body of Christ. At the Mass, the priest acts in persona Christi capitis, but it is the power of the Holy Spirit that perfects the Eucharist and multiplies its nourishment rather than divides it.

Even beyond the Catholic model for the Liturgy, though, the lesson of the process Jesus uses is clear. We are the church, and we are called to give the world the food of Christ — the Word, certainly, and also the mercy and service necessary to transmit it. Christ works through us to achieve God’s will, even when we have doubts, concerns, worries, and flat-out don’t feel like it.

Give them some food yourselves, Jesus told the disciples, and enabled them to multiply His goodness and mercy. Jesus didn’t push them aside and say, “Let me show you how this is done,” and start flipping bread to the crowd like a peanut vendor at a baseball game. He blessed the loaves and fishes, broke the bread, and then made the disciples the instrument of His miracle.

This is the lesson for all those who wish to be His disciples. Give them some food yourselves. Even with all our doubts and imperfections, we are the body of Christ in the world, and we are the multiplication of God’s goodness and mercy. All we need to do is trust in Christ and align ourselves to His will to take part in that ongoing miracle.

 

Note: The front-page image shows the garden at the Mount of Beatitudes Church on the Sea of Galilee, commemorating the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. The picture comes from my personal collection. 


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This is the lesson for all those who wish to be His disciples. Give them some food yourselves. Even with all our doubts and imperfections, we are the body of Christ in the world, and we are the multiplication of God’s goodness and mercy. All we need to do is trust in Christ and align ourselves to His will to take part in that ongoing miracle.

The food given was both spiritual and real. That is what we are called to do.

Thank you, Ed, once again for posting these passages on this Sunday.

unclesmrgol on August 3, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Thanks for this feature, Ed; it’s always a pleasure.

Our priest today made another point from this – Jesus can use what he has at hand (even insufficient us!) as instruments of his power.

massrighty on August 3, 2014 at 12:35 PM

A woman with several children was once asked how she divides her love between all of her offspring. “You don’t divide,” she replied. “You multiply.”

Ed Morrissey on August 3, 2014 at 12:01 pm

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Right-on.

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 1:02 PM

Thank you Ed. A very encouraging post to begin the week. :)

cat_owner on August 3, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Its interesting how all Jesus’ parables and instructions are vague and insubstantial but all his miracles are corporeal and material. Compare the diffuseness of The Sermon on The Mount with the miracles of walking on water, the loaves and fishes, and raising from the dead, and the blind to see

clandestine on August 3, 2014 at 2:28 PM

Its interesting how all Jesus’ parables and instructions are vague and insubstantial but all his miracles are corporeal and material. Compare the diffuseness of The Sermon on The Mount with the miracles of walking on water, the loaves and fishes, and raising from the dead, and the blind to see

clandestine on August 3, 2014 at 2:28 PM

I’m not sure I understand your point; of course miracles are material and substantive; they are supernatural works; things which happen.

His teachings are stories- stories are by their nature NOT physical acts.

Not everything Jesus said was a parable, and the parables were themselves hardly vague; and as for them being insubstantial!

It was Christ’s words which are the meat of His time incarnate; teaching us about the Father’s grace and how to gain eternal life. His miracles were wonderful demonstrations of His power and mercy, but on their own are not salvific. In other words, if you take away the teachings the miracles are rendered almost meaningless, but His Word contains everything, with or without miracles (as is demonstrated by the fact that His Word has retained all its power over the last 2000 years despite not being accompanied by miracles).

Can I take it you are not very experienced in reading Scripture?

Dolce Far Niente on August 3, 2014 at 2:48 PM

It was Christ’s words which are the meat of His time incarnate; teaching us about the Father’s grace and how to gain eternal life. His miracles were wonderful demonstrations of His power and mercy, but on their own are not salvific. In other words, if you take away the teachings the miracles are rendered almost meaningless, but His Word contains everything, with or without miracles (as is demonstrated by the fact that His Word has retained all its power over the last 2000 years despite not being accompanied by miracles).

Dolce Far Niente on August 3, 2014 at 2:48 PM

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Who says the Word of God hasn’t been accompanied by miracles, in the last 2000 years ?

A majority of churches in the United States barely teach the Word of God, and don’t really pray for, or expect miracles.
I’ll grant you that.

But the signs still follow the Word, when it is presented UN-compromised, as well as those persons that believe.

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

You don’t divide. You multiply. THEN you divide. Then add, then subtract.

Just sayin’

The Rogue Tomato on August 3, 2014 at 4:31 PM

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

I won’t argue; God is present in this world and miracles happen and I have witnessed them. But Christ is not walking this earth and performing healings in the flesh today.

But this is addressed to Thomas in John 20:29; if a believer requires signs and wonders on the order of raising Lazarus from the dead or feeding the thousands then his belief is probably weak, wouldn’t you agree?

We have built a Church by the Word, the Word which saves us even without Divine intervention in the day-to-day.

My point was that those “diffuse, insubstantial, vague” stories and parables are the Word.

Even if I never experience the healing of a leper, I can stand on the Word. That healing is certainly something my temporal, corporeal self can grasp easily, but it is no more “real” than those stories He left us.

Dolce Far Niente on August 3, 2014 at 4:31 PM

My point was that those “diffuse, insubstantial, vague” stories and parables are the Word.

Even if I never experience the healing of a leper, I can stand on the Word. That healing is certainly something my temporal, corporeal self can grasp easily, but it is no more “real” than those stories He left us.

Dolce Far Niente on August 3, 2014 at 4:31 PM

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So “healing is certainly something…”, BUT “it is no more ‘real’ than those stories He left us.”
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You gotta explain how “healing” and “those those stories He left us” aren’t REAL … because I believe they both are.

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 4:55 PM

What are we arguing about here?

Apparently I am not communicating well today; I never said or implied that either the Word or His works weren’t real. I did say I have personally experienced miracles, and I do try to live in His Word every day, so I don’t understand why do you leap to

“healing” and “those those stories He left us” aren’t REAL

The poster I was commenting to said that Jesus’ parables were vague and insubstantial, while only His miracles were corporeal.

This implies to me that that poster thinks miracles are “real” but the words of the Lord are not.

Do you only believe because you’ve witnessed, like Thomas, or is it possible for you to believe in Him without signs and wonders?

Or are you just looking for an argument? Because that’s what it seems like.

Dolce Far Niente on August 3, 2014 at 5:50 PM

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 4:55 PM

I believe you took off the quotes to get the meaning you assigned. The reference was to the Parables, for those were the stories Jesus gave us. The scenarios they describe are quite real, but the persons and things depicted in the parables are fictitious.

unclesmrgol on August 3, 2014 at 7:20 PM

“God sleeps in the stone, breathes in the plant, dreams in the animal and awakens in man.”

Schadenfreude on August 3, 2014 at 7:27 PM

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 4:55 PM
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What are we arguing about here?

Apparently I am not communicating well today

Dolce Far Niente on August 3, 2014 at 5:50 PM

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I believe you took off the quotes to get the meaning you assigned. The reference was to the Parables, for those were the stories Jesus gave us. The scenarios they describe are quite real, but the persons and things depicted in the parables are fictitious.

unclesmrgol on August 3, 2014 at 7:20 PM

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Apparently, I’m the one who’s “not communicating well today.”

Not the first I’ve done this … My sincere apologies.

There’s all ready too much conflict in the Church over actual differences, without making-up stuff, or having misunderstandings where there is no actual disagreement.

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 7:42 PM

Just beautiful, Ed. One of my favorite commentaries so far.

Thanks again.

Ed: God’s grace is inexhaustible, and has no division. The more who come to the Lord, the more His grace flows abundantly.

Ed: This is the lesson for all those who wish to be His disciples. Give them some food yourselves. Even with all our doubts and imperfections, we are the body of Christ in the world, and we are the multiplication of God’s goodness and mercy. All we need to do is trust in Christ and align ourselves to His will to take part in that ongoing miracle.

Alot to meditate on here.

God bless you, Ed and all here.

Elisa on August 3, 2014 at 9:42 PM

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 7:42 PM

I saw where you came from, and you were correct. I saw where Dolce came from, and that was correct. The problem was one of English, which is not always a precise language. We don’t see eye to eye on some things elsewhere, but here we are all agreeable.

Good night, and may the Lord be with you.

unclesmrgol on August 4, 2014 at 1:09 AM

“Let me show you how this is done,” and start flipping bread to the crowd like a peanut vendor at a baseball game. He blessed the loaves and fishes, broke the bread, and then made the disciples the instrument of His miracle.

That made me smile.

Thanks Ed.

HonestLib on August 4, 2014 at 10:16 AM

Who says the Word of God hasn’t been accompanied by miracles, in the last 2000 years ?

A majority of churches in the United States barely teach the Word of God, and don’t really pray for, or expect miracles.
I’ll grant you that.

But the signs still follow the Word, when it is presented UN-compromised, as well as those persons that believe.

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

The word of God is the bible.

The Word of God is Jesus Christ.

John 1. No?

Immolate on August 4, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Just now got to read this, Ed. Very nice.

Midas on August 4, 2014 at 11:45 AM

I won’t argue; God is present in this world and miracles happen and I have witnessed them. But Christ is not walking this earth and performing healings in the flesh today.
Dolce Far Niente on August 3, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Well, I could be wrong.
But isn’t the Church supposed to be His body on Earth?
And aren’t we supposed to be doing these things, in His name and as His agents?
So I’d argue that, in some sense, He is walking the Earth; in our shoes.

ReggieA on August 4, 2014 at 1:17 PM

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

The Sea of Galilee is so rich in history and purpose. The pristine freshwaters come in from the Jordan. The Jordan forms from the waters flowing down from Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon has three relatively high summits. Its snowcapped peaks are visible from a boat out only a short distance on the Sea of Galilee. While Mt. Hermon’s base is situated in very dry land, the summits coerce water from the sky and channel it to the Jordan. This water is critical to the life of Israel, but it also flows out from the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea. In 130 miles, this staple of humanity travels from the source to its deathbed. The Sea of Galilee is somewhat of a way station abounding with activity both visible and unnoticed. The Jordan, The Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea are of course very famous stages for presenting fuller meanings for much of Scripture.

On this day following the murder of John, I consider that Jesus perhaps had two purposes for taking out a boat to a deserted place. I presume that since the account takes place in Tabgha, he put the boat out on the Galilee. I’ve also visited the Holy Land and I’ve been able to be offshore from Tabgha. These are the waters that south of the Sea flow in the Jordan at Bethany where Jesus and John stood for the Baptism. These are the waters that are crucial for multiplying life. We can cite so many life reconciling instances about this water. You can see Mt Hermon from offshore. It is spiritually uplifting if you know a few particulars about what you’re looking at. These are the same waters that Jesus suggested to Simon that he embrace as a means to step outside of his comfort zone. It’s the perfect place to begin multiplying. This verse within this chapter is as potent as is the miracle itself and I’ve just revealed only a tip of the iceberg.

ericdijon on August 4, 2014 at 1:28 PM

listens2glenn on August 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

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The word of God is the bible.

The Word of God is Jesus Christ.

John 1. No?

Immolate on August 4, 2014 at 11:32 AM

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Yes.

Am I missing something (again) ?

listens2glenn on August 4, 2014 at 1:57 PM

No, just that the capitalized “Word” is a reference to Christ, whereas I read your statement as a reference to the bible. If I was mistaken, mea culpa.

Immolate on August 4, 2014 at 3:07 PM

No, just that the capitalized “Word” is a reference to Christ, whereas I read your statement as a reference to the bible. If I was mistaken, mea culpa.

Immolate on August 4, 2014 at 3:07 PM

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Nope … you’re right (maybe I should just stop posting in this thread).

listens2glenn on August 4, 2014 at 11:31 PM