You give them something
18th Sunday In Ordinary Time: Mt 14:13-21
13 When Jesus heard the news about John, he left there in a boat and went to a lonely place by himself. The people heard about it, so they left their towns and followed him by land.
14 Jesus got out of the boat, and when he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed those who were ill.
15 That evening his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.”
16 “They don’t have to leave,” answered Jesus. “You yourselves give them something to eat!”
17“All we have here are five loaves and two fish,” they replied.
18 “Then bring them here to me,” Jesus said.
19 He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
20 Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up 12 baskets full of what was left over.
21 The number of men who ate was about 5,000, not counting the women and children.
Other readings: Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 145:8-9, 15-18; Romans 8:35, 37-39
Our text today comes immediately after the martyrdom of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12). Herod makes a rash promise at his birthday party which gives his lover, Herodias, the opportunity to silence John once and for all. John had been imprisoned for openly denouncing the adulterous relationship between Herod and his brother’s wife. (Jewish Law expressly forbade a man to marry his brother’s wife while the brother was still living.)
The death of his cousin John saddened Jesus deeply. Quite understandably, he wants to be alone for a while, so he takes a boat to a remote place across the lake. But the crowds can’t leave him alone. They follow him to receive more healing miracles and hear his powerful teaching.
Matthew highlights Jesus’s grief and his compassion for the people who search so hard for him. He looks into the hearts of the crowds and he doesn’t ignore them (verse 14).
Later in the evening the disciples realise that people will be getting hungry, but in this remote place there is nowhere for them to buy food. So they suggest that Jesus sends them off to the nearest villages. Jesus’s reply must have stunned them: “You yourselves give them something to eat!”
What is Jesus thinking? They don’t even have enough food for themselves. How can they possibly feed all these people? It’s impossible.
Jesus takes the loaves and fishes, gives thanks to God, breaks the bread and then the miracle takes place – the food just keeps on coming. It’s enough to feed 5,000 men plus women and children, and with 12 baskets left over.
Only this miracle is recorded by all four Gospel writers. Matthew certainly intends us to see the parallel with God providing his people with manna in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses – but now one greater than Moses is here.
Imagine that you were an eyewitness to this miracle, first as one of the crowd, then as one of the disciples. What impact would it have had on you? How would you have reacted?
What lessons can we learn from this miracle today? Are we compassionate? Should we be more open to the possibility of God intervening in situations miraculously to demonstrate his glory? Have you experienced a situation where you didn’t have the ability or resources to meet a need but God intervened?
Psalm 145:8-18 reminds us of God’s compassion and enduring love. It also tells us that God is close to those who call to him from their hearts. What is the prayer of your heart? For what do you hunger? Take time to offer this hunger to God. And let the words of the psalm bring you comfort as you pray.
“You yourselves give them something to eat!” Open your heart to God and spend some time meditating on what this phrase might mean for you. God may reveal something very specific over the coming days or weeks.
Lectio Divina is an ancient tradition of reading and engaging with God’s Word