Food for life

Next Sunday is the celebration of the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can read a complete commentary on the Gospel here.

 13 When Jesus heard of it [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. 14 When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. 15 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.” 16 (Jesus) said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” 17 But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” 18 Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” 19 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. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over —twelve wicker baskets full. 21 Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21)

From the several weeks of parables which are contained in the “Third Discourse,” Matthew returns to the narrative in which Jesus’ miracles increasingly become the source of controversies. R.T. France outlines this section as follows noting the varying response to Jesus’ teaching and miracles (13:54–16:20)

  • Nazareth rejects Jesus (13:54–58)
  • Herod Antipas thinks Jesus is John the Baptist revived (14:1–12)
  • Jesus feeds a large crowd (14:13–21) – our gospel reading this Sunday
  • Jesus walks on the water (14:22–33)
  • The popularity of Jesus as a healer (14:34–36)
  • Dispute with Pharisees and scribes over defilement (15:1–20)
  • A Gentile woman’s faith (15:21–28)
  • Healing ministry among the Gentiles (15:29–31)
  • Second feeding of a crowd (15:32–39)
  • Jesus’ repudiation of Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1–12)
  • Jesus is the Messiah (16:13–20)

Stories of the rejection of Jesus will be interrupted by three miracle stories, the first of which is the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. The narrative is introduced by Jesus’ suspicion concerning Herod’s interest in him causing him to depart to a deserted place, but the crowds follow. After curing some of the sick, Jesus provides enough food for five thousand men, plus women and children (vv. 15–21). There is a pattern to Matthew’s narrative in which miracle and confrontation ebb and flow – and in the midst are accounts of faith and disbelief. The narrative plays out the parables that preceded it: the net is indeed cast wide and all kinds of fish, wheat, weeds, and more are caught in the net of the Kingdom.

Imagery:  Eugene Boring (323-4) notes that this miracles account appears six times in the NT gospels and incorporates a wide variety of imagery from Scripture, as well as the Jewish and Christian traditions. Looking to all the various accounts, Boring lists the prominent imagery:

  • the wilderness setting for the people of God en route from captivity to the promised land
  • recalcitrant Israelites / disciples, who doubt that food can be provided in the wilderness (Ex. 16:2-3);
  • God leads the people who are like sheep without a shepherd as the narrative calls to mind Ps 23 and its green grass;
  • the giving of manna (Ex 16, Nb 11);
  • Elisha’s miraculous provision of food (2 Kings 4:42-44) in which there are provisions left over;
  • Jesus, accused of being a glutton (Mt 11:19) provided table fellowship for all;
  • Jesus’ Eucharistic last meal with his disciples in which he takes on the role of the head of the new family, providing food and pronouncing the blessing; and
  • the messianic banquet as part of the gathering in of all creation seen in the bread and sea creatures.

The imagery points across the full breadth of salvation history, pointing to Jesus’ fulfillment as the “great prophet like Moses” and the Exodus experience, keying upon the miraculous feeding by Elisha in 2 Kings, pointing forward to the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist, as well as indicating the breaking in of the Kingdom of Heaven in the typology of the great banquet with so much food that everyone had their fill and there are still foods left over – On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. (Isaiah 25:6)


  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 322-326
  • R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007)

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