Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A


As you read through this commentary you will find it has been divided up. You are advised to reflect on only ONE part at a time. It is wise to spread your prayer and reflection over a number of days, only moving on to new insights when you feel called to do so.

Matthew 14: 13 – 21

This event was of very great importance to the early Christians. It is repeated six times in the gospels. A glance at the table below will be quite informative.

Galilee Pagan Territory
Matthew 14: 13 – 21
15: 32 – 38
Mark 6: 30 – 44 8: 1 – 10
Luke 9: 10 – 17
John 6: 1 – 15

We can read this story as a teaching on the Eucharist, however, it is better to read it as a general teaching on Jesus’ mission. Reading the story in this way reminds us that the Eucharist is itself a living lesson (‘sacrament’) of Jesus’ mission and ours too.
It is significant that the story does not lay emphasis on the miracle itself but on the gestures which precede and follow it, indicating that the miracle of the feeding is a “sign”, a lesson about life that we are called to celebrate and imitate.
Only occasionally are we called to do extraordinary things. What we are all called to do now and always is to adopt Jesus attitudes, expressed by his gestures in today’s story.1 1DeV p192

It is now time for you to read our text. As a further encouragement to go deeper into the Word of God, keep in mind Deut 15: 4a

“There will be no one in need among you..”

Have you divided the text and given each part a title? If not, why not do so before looking at how I did it.

Death of John the Baptist
13When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.

Seeking Jesus
14But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd, and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

Jesus approach vs Disciples approach
15When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.” 16Jesus replied, “There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.” 17But they answered, “All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.” 18 “Bring them here to me,” he said.

The Feeding
19He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; them he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. 20They all ate and were filled, and they collected the scraps remaining, twelve baskets full. 21Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.

Symbolic Language
Jesus does not solve the problem of hunger himself; he uses what people already possess: five loaves and two fish. Now 5 plus 2 gives 7 and the number 7 at the time meant totality. The message of Jesus then becomes quite clear: the community must put in common all it has in order that the “miracle” may take place and food may be available for all. 2 Arm 229

The five thousand people stand for the whole people of Israel. The twelve baskets left over stands for the new people of God, us, the whole of humanity.

Matthew’s Message
Is he showing the supernatural powers of Jesus? – NO!
Is each of us expected to see that nobody goes without the essentials of life? – Yes!

Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot rely on others to solve their problem of hunger. People have no “bread”, it is the disciple who must provide “food” for them.

“He took the five loaves, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples..” These are the words we use during the Eucharist. Matthew us to see how when we satisfy the hunger of a brother or sister, when we give him of her material help, we are one again repeating the gesture of Jesus. Could we then go to the altar and take the Bread of heaven if we are not willing to share our material bread with our brothers and sisters. The Eucharist should not be seen as separate from daily life.

“When evening came..” links us into the way the early Christian community celebrated the memory of how Jesus allowed himself to broken for them so that he could nourish them with his “body and blood”. (26: 20; 28: 1; Lk 24: 35; Acts 2: 42; 20: 7, 11) To nourish them with his body is to share with them his life, his heart (love), his prayer. To nourish them with his blood is to share his life given for them, his heart (love) pierced for them, his spirit poured out for them.

There were five loaves and two fish. Five links us to the Pentateuch (first five books of the bible) known as the Law to Jewish people. Their Bible was divided into the Law, the Prophets and Writings. The two fish symbolise the Prophets and Writings. Is it possible that we could read this miracle as a story about Jesus feeding the people of his time and the members of Matthew’s community being fed with the Word of God.

Now for the first time, we see the disciples being invited to share Jesus mission. This is a key factor in understanding this passage. Their first lesson in being missionaries is to recognise their own poverty, and to see in Jesus God’s answer to the cry of people’s hungry and thirsting hearts: “They all ate and were filled.” 3 Fallon p214

Jesus .. “said the blessing.”
Ps 78: 18 – 19 introduces us to blessing God.

18Blessed be Yahweh, God of Israel,
who alone works wonders;
19blessed forever his glorious name.
May his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen. Amen.

When lasts did you bless God?

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