THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Lesson 17, Chapters 13:54 - 15:39
Narrative #4: More Responses to Jesus' Teachings and Actions

Holy Father,
Give us the grace to respond with faith and love to Jesus in our daily walk to eternity. Keep us ever aware in the smallest details of our daily lives that we have been called to a discipleship of service from which we take no vacations. Help us to be patient with others, as You are patient with us, and help us to make our every action and every word acts of righteousness in which we give a positive witness to our Christian faith in our families and in the world. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, in our study of Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom in the face of growing opposition. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

+ + +

The righteous dead in Sheol: As gold in a furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine and shall dark about as sparks through stubble ...
Wisdom 3:7

Concerning the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, Our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus, Thy Servant. To Thee be the glory for evermore. As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered, became one, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom.' "The Didache, 9:3-4, Eucharistic Prayer (written circa 50-120AD; emphasis added).

While only those in the crowd whose hearts were opened to receive Jesus' teaching could understand His kingdom parables were in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Is 6:9-10), the others had to be aware of three significant points:

  1. Jesus was teaching in parables (Mt 13:34) as prophesied in Psalms 78:1-2 (quoted in Mt 13:35) and like God's other Spirit-filled Old Testament prophets (Ez 21:5/20:49).
  2. He was teaching with authority that was lacking in the hierarchy of the Church of their day (Mt 7:29; Mk 1:22; Lk 4:36).
  3. He told them that no longer were the blessings for covenant obedience or the judgments for covenant disobedience to be temporal (Lev 26; Dt 28). In the kingdom that was coming, both blessings and judgments were to be eternal, not all sins could be forgiven after death, and "at the end of the Age" God will render a final accounting in a Last Judgment that will eternally condemn the wicked (Mt 12:32; 13:42-43, 49-50).

Bible scholars debate how much the members of the Old Covenant Church understood about the promise of an eternal salvation, but that was the reason the people knew they needed a Redeemer-Messiah to crush the power of Satan and to restore mankind to the perfection fellowship with God prior to the Fall. The inspired writer of the book of Wisdom writes about the temporary nature of Sheol and the promise of a restoration for the righteous that have been purified of their sins: But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are at peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality. Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. At the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD [YHWH] shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect (Wis 3:1-9). St. Paul describes a similar purification of the just in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. The promised "time of their visitation" in Wisdom 3:7 is fulfilled when Jesus descends to Sheol and preaches the Gospel of salvation, even to those who rejected the call of repentance and salvation at the Flood judgment in Genesis (see Gen 6-7; 1 Pt 3:19-20; 4:6). It was when Jesus emptied Sheol of the righteous dead and led them through the opened gates of heaven that the wicked were to be condemned to Gehenna "the hell of the damned (see Wis 14:11 where the same Hebrew word in 3:7 is used for the judgment of the wicked).

Ending the third discourse with a similar formula statement using the Greek verb teleo, in 13:53, Matthew begins the next narrative section with the story of Jesus' visit to His hometown. The 4th Narrative extends from 13:54 - 17:27.

Matthew 13:54-58 ~ Jesus' Rejection at Nazareth
54 He came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, "Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? 55 Is he not the carpenter's [tekton] son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?" 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house." 58 And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.

St. Joseph was a tekton, a craftsman who worked in hard materials like wood and stone. Most scholars believe Matthew's account of Jesus' rejection at Nazareth is the same event told in more detail in the Gospel of Luke where the people of the town became angry and tried to kill Him. The full story of Jesus' rejection at Nazareth is found in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-30. Other scholars suggest the account in Matthew 13:54-58 was Jesus' second attempt to preach to the people of His hometown. Nazareth was about 23 miles southwest of Capernaum.

They were astonished and said, "Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?

They were not "astonished" in the positive sense of being impressed with Jesus' words and deeds; they were astonished that a local boy was making such claims, and their astonishment produced anger.

In the account of Jesus' visit to Nazareth in the Gospel of Luke (4:16-30), Jesus visited His hometown on the Sabbath and attended worship at the local Synagogue.

Question: As a returned "son" of the community, what was Jesus invited to do in the Sabbath Synagogue worship service?

Answer: He was invited to recite the reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He read aloud from Isaiah 61:1-2 and proclaimed that the prophecy of a divine jubilee liberation by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled in Him.

Initially the people welcomed His gracious words and asked "isn't this the son of Joseph" (Lk 4:22; Mt 13:55). He accused them of only wanting to see Him perform the miracles He performed in Capernaum and said "no prophet is accepted in his own native place" (Lk 4:24; Mt 13:57). Then, when He told them that their rejection of His message would result in the Gospel of the Kingdom being taken to the Gentiles just as God sent the prophets Elijah and Elisha to the Gentile woman of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, the people became angry and tried to kill Him (Lk 4:25-30).

Matthew 13:58 ~ 58 And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith. It wasn't that Jesus was limited in His ability to work miracles at Nazareth. He didn't producing many miraculous deeds and healings because, lacking faith, most of the people did not come to Him for healing.

Chapter 14: The Fourth Narrative

Herod [Antipas] was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so, Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he like to listen to him.
Mark 6:17-20

"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the gospel.'" "To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth." Now the Father's will is "to raise up men to share in his own divine life." He does this by gathering men around his Son Jesus Christ. This gathering is the Church, "on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom."
Catechism of the Catholic Church 541 (quoting from Mk 1:14-15 and Vatican II, Lumen gentium: 3, 2 and 5)

Matthew chapter 14 continues the theme of the diverse reactions to Jesus' teaching that was begun in chapter 11. Chapter 14 can be divided into four topical parts:

Part I: The death of St. John the Baptist (Mt 14:1-12)

Part II: The feeding miracle of the five thousand (Mt 14:13-21)

Part III: Jesus walks on the sea (Mt 14:22-33)

Part IV: Jesus heals at Gennesaret (Mt 14:34-36)

Part I can be subdivided into three sections, with each subsection defined by the name "Herod" in verses 1, 3 and 6:

  1. Herod's opinions concerning Jesus and St. John the Baptist (verses 1-2).
  2. Herod's imprisonment of St. John (verses 3-5).
  3. Herod's martyrdom of St. John (verses 6-12).

Matthew 14:1-12 ~ Herod Antipas and the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus 2 and said to his servants, "This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him." 3 Now Herod had arrested John, bound [him], and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, 4 for John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." 5 Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod 7 so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, 10 and he had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl [korasion], who took it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.

[..] is the literal word in the Greek text of Matthew 14:11 (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, page 41); this word is the diminutive for "girl" (in classical Greek kore) and is more accurately translated "young girl."

Question: What event prompted Jesus to leave Judea for the Galilee to begin His ministry proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom? Why was it that this event prompted the beginning of Jesus' ministry? See Mt 4:12-13; Mk 1:14-15.
Answer: St. John the Baptist's arrest and imprisonment marked the end of John's baptisms of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The time of preparation had come to an end. It was for this reason that Jesus withdrew to the Galilee to begin His ministry.

Herod Antipas was the ruler who arrested John, imprisoned him in the Perean fortress of Macherus, and later executed John (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5.2/116-119). He was the ruler of both Perea and the Galilee (his palace was located near the Sea of Galilee in Tiberius). Bible scholars debate whether the party took place at the palace-fortress at Macherus or the palace in Tiberias since those in attendance were his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee (Mk 6:21). Since Herod Antipas' capital city was in the Galilee, it is not inconceivable that the majority of the officers of his court would have been Galileans like Herod Antipas' steward, Chuza, whose wife Joanna was a disciple of Jesus who supported His ministry (Lk 8:3; 24:10).

Matthew 14:1 ~ At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus 2 and said to his servants, "This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him."

Jesus' teaching in parables like the prophets of old had generated even more talk about His true identity and news of the Galilean prophet even reached Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas had been both fearful and fascinated by John the Baptist. Now, regretting having executed John, he speculates that Jesus is a resurrected or reincarnated John the Baptist.

Notice that Matthew uses the technically correct title "tetrarch" in verse 1 (it is a title confirmed by Josephus in Antiquities, 18.27 and in inscriptions). Technically, a tetrarch ruled a fourth of a region. Upon his death, Herod the Great's will had divided his kingdom among his remaining sons. The Romans honored their faithful ally's final requests by making Herod Antipas the ruler of both the Galilee in the north and Perea on the east side of the Jordan River, the territories where both St. John the Baptist and Jesus located their ministries.(1) Matthew will use the title "king" for Herod Antipas in verse 9 but only in the sense that he was a ruler.

Also notice that Matthew does not explain the family relationship of Herod (Antipas) and Herodias and her daughter to Herod the Great. This is more evidence that he was writing his Gospel for the Jews who were familiar with Herod the Great's complicated family tree.

Matthew 14:3-4 ~ Now Herod had arrested John, bound [him], and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, 4 for John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her."

According to Josephus, St. John was imprisoned in Perea in the fortress of Macherus (Antiquities, 18.5.2/119).

Question: Why did John the Baptist condemn the marriage between Herod Antipas and his brother's wife Herodias? See Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21.
Answer: According to the Law they were living in adultery, and as leaders they were setting a bad example for the people by openly living in violation of the Law.

The details of Herod Antipas' birthday party could have been provided to St. Matthew by two disciples who had access to Herod Antipas' court: Joanna, the wife of Herod Antipas' chief steward, Chuza (Lk 8:3), and perhaps by Herod Antipas' childhood friend, Manean, who became a Christian listed among those who served as teachers or prophets in the faith community at Antioch (Acts 13:1). Josephus records a different reason for Herod Antipas executing St. John: ...Herod, who feared least the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties ... (Antiquities, 18.5.2/118). There is not necessarily a discrepancy between Josephus' account and Matthew's account; Josephus may be reporting the official reason for John's execution that was shared with the Roman overlords.

Matthew 14:6-7 ~ But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod 7 so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for.

It has been suggested that displaying member of the ruler's household before banquet guests is unlikely. However, a similar incident occurs in Esther 1:11. Mark records that he was so taken with the girl that he promised, among other things, to give her up to half his kingdom (Mk 6:23). One wonders in exchange for what? A similar promise was made to Queen Esther in the book of Esther 5:3, but that oath was made out of King Ahasuerus' love for Esther who was his wife.

Matthew 14:8-9 ~ Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, 10 and he had John beheaded in the prison.

Herod Antipas' rash oath is reminiscent of the rash oath made by the judge Jephthah (Judg 11:12-31). Rather than being embarrassed in front of his guests, a morally depraved man caused the death of a righteous prophet.

Josephus names Herodias' daughter who performed the dance that so impressed her step-father. Her name is Salome and she was Herodias' daughter by her first husband-uncle, Philip, son of Herod the Great and Mariamme, granddaughter of the High Priest Simon (Antiquities, 18.5.4/136).(2) In verse 11 she is describes as a "girl," but more accurately a "young girl" in the Greek text. The Greek word korasion is the diminutive for the classical Greek word for "girl," kore (see International Critical Commentary: Matthew, page 475). The Greek word used for Salome, korasion, is the same word used for the twelve year old girl Jesus raised from death to life in 9:24-25. Most historians date Salome's birth to between 15 and 19 AD, which would make her between twelve and fourteen years old at the time of the party in c. 28 AD. In any case, she was not yet married to her uncle Herod Philip, the ruler of Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanea, Panias and Auranitis; he died in 34 AD according to Josephus (Antiquities, 18.4.6/106, 18.5.4/136).

Notice how St. Matthew carefully crafted the similarities between the narratives of the deaths of St. John the Baptist and Jesus in his Gospel.

Question: List the ways in which the conspiracy against John and death of St. John is similar to the narrative of the conspiracy against Jesus and death of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel.
Answer:

Death of St. John the Baptist Death of Jesus Christ
Herodias conspired to have John arrested and put to death (Mt 14:3, 8). The chief priests and Pharisees conspired to have Jesus arrested and put to death (Mt 12:14; 26:3-4; 27:1).
John was seized and bound (Mt 14:3 )* Jesus was seized and bound (Mt 27:2)*
The ruler Herod Antipas was responsible for making the decision to execute John (Mt 14:3). The ruler (Roman governor) Pontius Pilate was responsible for making the decision to execute Jesus (Mt 22:2; 27:26).
Herod feared the crowds who held John to be a prophet (Mt 14:5). The chief priests and Pharisees feared the crowds because they held Jesus to be a prophet (Mt 21:46).
Herod's wife wanted her husband to kill John (Mt 14:8). Pilate's wife wanted her husband to free Jesus (Mt 27:19).
Herod did not want to execute John but was maneuvered by his wife to do so because he feared retracting his oath given to her daughter in front of the crowd at his party (Mt 14:6-11). Pilate did not want to execute Jesus but was maneuvered by the chief priests (Mt 27:20-23) and feared the crowd would riot (Mt 27:24-25).
John's disciples took his body away and buried him (Mt 14:12). Jesus' disciples took His body away and buried Him (Mt 27:57-61).

*The same Greek verbs for "seized" and "bound" are used in both narratives: Mt 14:3 and 26:27; 27:2 (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, pages 41, 83 and 85).

Matthew 14:13-21 ~ The Feeding of the Multitude
13 When Jesus heard of it, 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 [anaklino = recline] 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. [..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, page 42).

The story of the feeding miracle of the five thousand begins with Jesus withdrawing to a quiet place, probably to pray and to grieve over St. John's suffering and death. St. Mark tells us that Jesus invited the disciples to join Him, to "rest a while," and to go by boat to "a deserted place" which St. Luke records was near Bethsaida on the northeast side of the lake.(3) In the fourth Gospel, St. John includes the information in 6:3 that Jesus went up onto a "mountain;" the Greek word is oros (also see Mt 14:23 and 15:29 where the same word is used). It is a significant addition since the word "mountain" has symbolic significance in Scripture associated with revelations of God (i.e., Gen 22:2; Ex 19:16-19; 24:12-13; 2 Chr 3:1; Mt 5:1; 17:1-2; Acts 1:11-12; etc.; also see the chart "Holy Mountains of God"). Many people saw them leave and followed them, arriving before them (Mk 6:30-33).

Taking pity on them because "they were like sheep without a shepherd," Jesus began to teach them (Mk 6:34). Sts. Mark and John set the event of the feeding of the five thousand in the early spring when the grass was green and the crowds of the faithful were journeying to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Passover and the required pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread (Mk 6:39; Jn 6:4). It is the second year of Jesus' ministry, 29 AD.(4)

At first glace this story of the feeding miracle seems to be only concerned with Jesus' compassion and His supernatural ability to meet the needs of His people, but there is so much more to be understood concerning this event.

Question: What feeding miracles do you recall from the Old Testament? For example see Ex 16: 4-13, 35; Num 11:31-34; 1 Kng 17:8-16; 2 Kng 4:42-44.
Answer: The Old Testament feeding miracles:

Matthew's telling of the miracle of feeding the more than five thousand is not only meant to remind us of God's compassion in the Old Testament but to also prepare us for a greater miracle that St. John's Gospel points us to in Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse that took place the day after the miracle feeding. In that discourse the Jews saw Jesus feeding miracle the day before in the context of the miracle of the manna and Jesus as the new prophet Moses come to liberate His people and the new David come to reestablish the kingdom of Israel(see Jn 6:14-15; 30-31). In that discourse Jesus promises that He will one day give His Body and Blood as food and drink for the salvation of man (Jn 6:22-65). His miracle feeding and the discourse the next day is a foreshadowing of the giving of Himself in the Eucharist.

Jesus miraculously transforms five loaves of barley bread (St. John includes the detail that the bread was made of cheaper barley in Jn 6:9) and two fishes into enough food to feed the crowd. First He tells them to recline in groups on the grass (Mark records that the groups were composed of fifty and one hundred people; Mk 6:39-40). Then Jesus blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the food to His disciples to distribute to the people.

Question: How many people were fed in the feeding miracle?
Answer: We are only told that five thousand men were fed, not counting the women and children so the number was maybe twice or three times as many.

This was a supernatural event and not an example of the people sharing food they already brought with them. The number five is the number of grace and any multiple of a number signifies abundance of the symbolic nature of the number; in this case, the number signifies the abundance of God's grace in meeting the needs of His people. The five loaves and two fishes of the meal also may have symbolic significance. Together they add up to the number seven; it is also one of the "perfect" numbers (3, 7, 10 and 12), signifying perfection, fullness and completion, especially spiritual perfection (see the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture".

Notice how carefully Matthew has provided several similarities between the miracle feeding of the more than five thousand and the miracle feeding at the Last Supper (Mt 26:20, 26-30.

Question: How many similarities can you find?
Answer: Matthew used some of the same wording and in the same order:

The Feeding Miracle of the 5 Thousand The Last Supper
1. It was evening when the meal took place (Mt 14:15) 1. It was evening when the meal took place (Mt 26:20)
2. They reclined to eat (Mt 14:19) 2. They reclined to eat (Mt 26:20)
3. Jesus blessed the food (Mt 14:19) 3. Jesus blessed the food (Mt 26:26)
4. He broke the loaves (Mt 14:19) 4. He broke the loaves (Mt 26:26)
5. Jesus passed the food to the disciples (Mt 14:19) 5. Jesus passed the food to the disciples (Mt 26:26)

This miracle feeding foreshadowed the first Eucharistic banquet at the Last Supper but in no way was it the same miracle. It was not a sacred feast as in the eating of the Passover sacrifice at the Last Supper on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: the bread was barley bread (Jn 6:9) and not unleavened wheat bread, and fish was the meat of the meal and not the roasted sacrificed lamb or kid of the Passover. The miracle multiplication of the loaves and fishes prefigures the feeding the Eucharist to the faithful of the world and the promise of the eschatological banquet after the "final harvest" at the end of time (Is 25:6; 62:8-9; 62:8-9; 65:13-14; Jer 31:12-14; Ez 44:16; Rev 19:7-9).

The Catechism interprets Jesus' miracle feedings of the five thousand and the four thousand: The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributed the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist. The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the Hour of Jesus' glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father's kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ (CCC 1335).

St. Matthew draws a rather sharp contrast between Herod's banquet at his palace/fortress and Jesus' banquet on the slope of a hillside.

Question: Compare the banquet Jesus' hosted for the "lost sheep" of the faithful to Herod Antipas' banquet of the rich and decadent who have failed to shepherd God's people.
Answer:

Herod's Banquet Jesus' Feeding of the Multitude
Host: Herod Antipas son of Herod the Great and ruler of the Galilee and Perea Host: Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and King of Kings
Guests: the rich and powerful of Herod's court Guests: the disciples and the lost sheep of Israel
The purpose: to celebrate Herod's birthday The purpose: To meet the needs of the people and to prefigure a future event
The climax of the meal: a dance by Herod's step daughter that leads to the death of St. John the Baptist The climax of the meal: over 5 thousand are fed with 12 baskets left over; it is a sign that points to the abundance of God's grace and the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of the Lord

The Jews who took part in the feeding miracle certainly understood it as a miracle similar to the feeding miracles in the Exodus journey (Jn 6:14, 30-31). And, the Gospel narratives reveal that the inspired writers certainly understood Jesus' compassion for the hungry crowd and His feeding miracles were foreshadowed by God's compassion and care for the covenant people in the Exodus journey (Ex 16:4-13, 35; Num 11; Ps 78:19), and were meant to prefigure the feeding miracle in the Eucharist (see Jn 6:22-65) as well as the promise of the coming eschatological banquet in the heavenly Kingdom (see verses listed above), recalling the promises of the prophets like Isaiah: 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. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken (Is 26:6-8). The feeding miracle of the five thousand (not counting women and children) is retold in all four Gospels (Mk 6:31-34; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-13.

Question: What is significant about Jesus asking the disciples to feed the crowd themselves and then to distribute the food?
Answer: When the Kingdom comes it will be Jesus' disciples, the priests of the New Covenant order, who will be responsible for feeding the children of the Kingdom Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharistic banquet.

Notice that in blessing the meal in verse 19 that Jesus takes on the role of the Jewish father in blessing the food before the meal.

Matthew 14:20-21 ~ 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.

That each person had enough to eat to be satisfied may be an allusion to the promise in Deuteronomy 8:9 that covenant obedience will mean that the people will eat bread without stint and where you will lack nothing and the following warning: But when you have eaten your fill, you must bless the LORD, your God (8:10) and the command to remember the provisions God has made for His people and to be grateful (8:11).

Question: How many baskets were left over for the disciples to collect after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand?
Answer: Twelve full baskets.

Question: How many parallels can you find between Jesus' feeding miracle in Matthew 14:13-21 and Elisha's feeding miracle in 2 Kings 4:42-44?
Answer:

Elisha's Feeding Miracle
2 Kings 4:42-44
Jesus' Feeding Miracle
Matthew 14:13-21
Elisha was greater than the prophet he succeeded (Elijah) Jesus was greater than the prophet He succeeded (John the Baptist who came in the spirit of Elisha)
In Elisha's miracle there was only a small amount of food (10 loaves of barley bread) In Jesus' miracle there was only a small amount of food (5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fishes)
Elisha's servants protested that there was not enough food to feed so many men Jesus' disciples protested that there was not enough food to feed to many men
The small amount of food became enough to feed 100 men The small amount of food became enough to feed 5 thousand men
There was food left over There was food left over

Question: What might the Jews who saw the parallels between Jesus' feeding miracle and the feeding miracle of the 9th century BC prophet Elisha conclude from the comparison between the small amount left over in Elisha's miracle and the abundance of left over bread in Jesus' miracle?
Answer: Jesus of Nazareth is a greater prophet of God than the great Elisha.

Matthew 14:20b ~ and they picked up the fragments left over "twelve wicker baskets full.

The Greek word kophinos in verse 20 is used for very large baskets made of wicker. In the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture, twelve is the number of divine order in government (i.e., the twelve sons of Israel who were the physical fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles who were the spiritual fathers of the new Israel of the New Covenant Church).

In John's Gospel account the word translated "fragments" or scraps" in the Greek text of verse 20 is in the singular and not plural (Jn 6:12). In the Greek the word, klasma [Strong's #2801], in the singular means a single piece, of the "scrap or fragment left over, indicating one whole (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, page 265). The Gospel of John emphasizes the identity of the fragment with the original loaves left over from the meal of the five barley loaves (Jn 6:13 NJB). The unique meaning of this passage was obvious to the early Church as is indicated in the Eucharistic Prayer found in the early Church document known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, or more simply as The Didache [Teaching]: Concerning the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, Our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus, Thy Servant. To Thee be the glory for evermore. As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered, became one, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom.' "The Didache, 9:3-4, Eucharistic Prayer (written circa 50-120AD; emphasis added).

Since the Didache speaks of the bread as having been first scattered over the hills (literally mountains) many scholars believe that this Eucharistic prayer originated in the Holy Land. The idea of Israel being "scattered" and then "gathered" was familiar to the Jews and Israelites (see Dt 28:25; Jer 34:17; Judith 5:23; Ps 146:2; Ez 34:5-6, 11-12; etc.).

Question: What is the symbolism in Jesus' feeding miracles of the food being scattered among the people and then the remains gathered together again? St. John's Gospel tells us that this event occurred before the Passover festival when pilgrims from across the Roman world were making their way to Jerusalem for the week-long pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread (see Jn 6:4; Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:5-17; 2 Chr 8:13).
Answer: It is the mission of the Messiah to gather in the scattered tribes of Israel. In this feeding miracle there were twelve baskets of left over food collected, one for each of the twelve Apostles. Beginning in the Holy Land that was once Israel, but where the covenant people are scattered among the Gentile nations of the earth, Jesus is symbolically calling the whole of Israel (the descendants of the twelve tribes born from the twelve physical fathers who were the sons of Jacob-Israel) to Himself, to renew and redeem His covenant people under the leadership of the spiritual fathers of the renewed Israel, the Apostles.

St. Cyprian beautifully develops this idea of the "gathered into one" to illustrate the unity of Christ and the Church which is gathered' to Him (see Epistle 63.13; 69.5). Also notice the plural "We give Thee thanks" in the Didache prayer which survives from this ancient prayer in the Ordinary of the Mass today and exemplifies St. Peter's characterization of the entire Church as "a holy priesthood" (1 Pt 2:5).

Matthew 14:22-33 ~ Jesus Walks Upon the Sea and Calms the Storm
22 Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 After doing so, he went up on the mountain [oros] by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. "It is a ghost," they said, and they cried out in fear. 27 At once [Jesus] spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I [Ego Ami = can also be translated I AM]; do not be afraid." 28 Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God." [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, page 43).

This is Jesus' second nature miracle calming the angry sea (see Mt 8:23-27).

Question: In the first calming of the storm at sea miracle, what is the question the disciples ask concerning Jesus' identity?
Answer: They ask "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?"

In this second nature miracle, they find the answer to that question.

In verse 23 the Greek word oros can be translated "mountain." As mentioned previously, the word "mountain" has symbolic significance in Scripture associated with revelations of God. Jesus withdraws from His disciples to pray and to have personal "alone time" with God the Father. He often takes the time for private prayer, in times of stress as in the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist and in times of victory to give thanks and praise. That they are "crossing" the Sea of Galilee and will land on the west side in the land of Gennesaret (Mt 14:34) supports St. Luke's account that the feeding miracle of the five thousand took place on the northeast side of the lake near Bethsaida.

Matthew 14:25 ~ During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. It is a common occurrence for storms to spring up suddenly on the Sea of Galilee. This storm occurred during the fourth watch of the night. During the Roman occupation of the region, which began in 63 BC, the Jewish three night watches were abandoned in favor of the Roman four night watches. The fourth watch was from 3 AM to Dawn.

Unlike the nature miracle in 8:23-27, this time Jesus defies the laws of nature by walking on the waters of the stormy sea. Since this is an impossible act for an ordinary human, at first the disciples think they are seeing a ghost.

Question: How does Jesus calm their fears and what is the significance of His response (see the literal translation in the text above).
Answer: He calls out "Ego Ami" "I AM. This is the Divine Name.

In the Old Testament Greek translation of the Septuagint, the expression Ego Ami functions as the Divine Name: see Ex 3:14; Dt 32:39; Is 41:4 and 43 ten times; see 43:3, 5, 10, 11, 12 (three times), 15, 19, 25 (in chapter 43 the words of the Divine Name appear along with the command "fear not" several times).

The Fathers of the Church saw the "fourth watch" as having typological significance relating to the four phases of the history of salvation, although they did not agree on the divisions (Hillary of Piotiers, Chromatius, etc.). Many of the Fathers suggest that it was Jesus' response using the Divine Name "I AM," that prompted Peter to ask to come to Him.

Question: What happened when Peter had the courage to get out of the boat on to the stormy sea to walk to Jesus on the waves?
Answer: At first he was successful, but then when he took his eyes off Jesus to look at the stormy sea he became frightened and began to sink into the churning water.

Question: What was Peter's response to the peril of sinking into the sea? What two choices did Peter have? What was the significance of Peter's response to the danger?
Answer: Peter had two choices: he could try to swim back to the boat or he could call upon Jesus to save him. Evidence of Peter's faith in Jesus and His confidence in what he knew was Jesus' true identity is found in the fact that Peter cried out to Jesus to save him.

St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine identify Peter's crying out to Jesus as an act of repentance (Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 50.2; Augustine, Sermon 75.10) for which he was rewarded with salvation.

Matthew 14:31 ~ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Jesus does not so much give Peter a rebuke as a teaching moment "in times of peril do not doubt but believe.

Matthew 14:32-33 ~ After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God."

In the first calming of the storm at sea miracle (Mt 8:23-27) the disciples asked: "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?" Now they have their answer "Jesus is the Divine Messiah "only God can control nature.

Question: What is their response to this revelation? How do they use the title "Son of God"?
Answer: They immediately bowed down in submission, obedience and worship, using the title "Son of God" in the same sense as the prophets identifying Jesus as the Davidic Messiah.

In the Bible the title "son of God" did not necessarily mean Divine sonship but could also mean sonship that was adoptive. For example, "son of God" identified certain very intimate relationships between God and His creatures as in the case of:

It is in the usual sense of God's divinely anointed servant that the title "Son of God" was applied to the promised Messiah (1 Chr 17:13; Ps 2:7; and 89:26). However, in Jesus' identification of Himself as the "I AM" and in His power over nature, the disciples have understood that Jesus bears the title "Son of God" in a sense not previously applied to other men and having God for a Father in a way others had not previously enjoyed.

Matthew 14:34-36 ~ Jesus Heals the Sick at Gennesaret
34 After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 When the men of that place recognized him, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought to him all those who were sick 36 and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed.

The land of Gennesaret was the territory on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. It was the most populated area surrounding the lake. News of Jesus' miracles had spread and such was the common peoples' interest in Him that any appearance now generates large crowds. Many people believed that just touching His garments could generate healing. They had probably heard of the cure of the bleeding woman (Mt 9:20-22) who touched the tassel (in Hebrew the tzizit; plural = tziziot) on His cloak (in Hebrew the talit; plural = taliot) and was healed.

Question: What was the tassel of Jesus cloak? What was the significance of the tassel? See Num 15:37-39 and Dt 22:12.
Answer: The men of the covenant people were commanded to wear tassels with a blue thread on the four corners of the outer cloak. It was a sign to remind them to be obedient to all the commands and prohibitions of the Law to achieve holiness.

The Jewish prayer shawl is the modern adaptation of this command, although it is only worn as an outer garment for prayer in the Synagogue. Orthodox Jews wear a little talit (talit katan) as an undergarment with the fringes hanging out for their shirts or vests. The fringes are no longer blue since the destruction of the Temple (The Jewish Book of Why, vol. 1, pages 2, 31, 99-105, 151).

Chapter 15: The Fourth Narrative Continued

Mathew 15:1-20 is a narrative with three scenes:

  1. Jesus with the Pharisees and scribes (verses 1-9)
  2. Jesus with the crowds (verses 10-11)
  3. Jesus with His disciples (verses 12-20)

Scenes 1 and 3 both open with a question directed to Jesus.

Matthew 15:21-39 has three narratives focusing on Jesus' compassion:

  1. Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman (verses 21-28)
  2. Jesus heals the great crowds that come to Him (verses 29-31)
  3. Jesus feeds the crowd that had stayed with Him three days (verses 32-39).

Matthew 15:1-9 ~ Jesus Debates the Pharisees and Scribes
1 Then the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash [their] hands when they eat a meal." 3 He said to them in reply, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, Honor your father and your mother,' and Whoever curses father or mother shall die.' 5 But you say, Whoever says to father or mother, "Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God," 6 need not honor his father.' You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said: 8 This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.'

The Pharisees presented themselves to the people as the "keepers of the Law" which they professed to strictly observe. The Pharisees and scribes have come out from Jerusalem, the center of worship and the center of supreme authority for the Old Covenant Church. They are probably members of the Sanhedrin, the highest ranking Jewish court of law.

Question: What accusation do they make against Jesus' disciples? Also see Mk 7:2-5.
Answer: They accuse the disciples of breaking the tradition of the elders in the washing of their hands before they eat a meal and therefore eating with "unclean" meaning defiled hands.

To wash one's hands as an act of ritual purification before eating is not found in the Law of the Sinai Covenant. Matthew offers no explanation since his Gospel was written for the Jews and they understood their own traditions, but St. Mark, who's Gospel was written for a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles, explains: For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds] (Mk 7:3-4).

The "tradition of the elders" refers to the body of laws and customs that were added to the Law of the Sinai Covenant over the centuries. The Pharisees and scribes are not concerned with personal hygiene but with ritual purification to remove defilement caused by contact with what is considered to be ritually "unclean."

Question: Instead of answering their question, what question does Jesus put to them and what is the point of His question?
Answer: Jesus' point is that in focusing so rigidly on their "traditions" they have neglected the divine commands of the covenant expressed in the Torah of Moses.

Question: How does Jesus say they have perverted the command of the Law to honor one's father and mother?
Answer: They have excused themselves from the command to honor one's parents by caring for them in their old age by the excuse that their wealth is set aside to be given as a gift to the Temple in their wills. Jesus clearly sees this as only an excuse to avoid their obligations to their parents.

Calling them hypocrites, a Greek term Jesus will use fourteen times in Matthew's Gospel (Mt 6:2,5, 16; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 37, 29; 24:51), Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13.

Question: In quoting this passage, what charge does Jesus level against the Pharisees who see themselves as strict observers of the Law and the Law's authoritative interpreters?
Answer: The charge is that in placing more emphasis on human traditions than on God's ordained commandments the Pharisees do not worship God properly and do not obey His commands "they only pay "lip service" to God's commands and prohibitions not "heart-service."

Matthew 15:10-11 ~ Jesus Addresses the Crowd on the True Meaning of Purity and Defilement
10 He summoned the crowd and said to them, "Hear and understand. 11 It is not what enters one's mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one."

Question: Concerned that the Pharisees do not continue to mislead the people concerning living in the spirit of the Law as God intended, what does Jesus tell the people about purity and defilement?
Answer: Defilement that is offensive to God does not come from food that goes into one's mouth but from the words that come out of one's mouth.

Matthew 15:12-20 ~ Jesus Teaches His Disciples
12 Then his disciples approached and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" 13 He said in reply, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit." 15 Then Peter said to him in reply, "Explain [this] parable to us." 16 He said to them "Are even you still without understanding? 17 Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile."

Question: Why are the disciples concerned that Jesus has deeply offended the Pharisees and scribes?
Answer: The Pharisees are the most powerful political and religious force in the land and offending them could be dangerous for Jesus.

Mathew 15:13-14 ~ He said in reply, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit."

Question: What parable that Jesus has told previously is similar to His reply to the disciples? What is the comparison?
Answer: Jesus' answer recalls the parable of the wheat and the weeds. He says that the Pharisees and scribes are like the weeds planted by Satan. Like the weeds in the parable eventually they will be uprooted and thrown into the fire of eternal judgment. It is a fate that will be suffered by those who blindly follow them.

Jesus' teaching has shocked Peter and the disciples. The Pharisees have exercised their authority over the common people, with their consent, during their entire lives "only the Romans are above them. Then too, under the Law of the Sinai covenant, there are ritual purity rules that the people must obey concerning foods that they may eat and foods they may not eat as well as conditions that can defile a person and leave him/her unfit for worship (see Lev 11-22). These ritual purity rules were meant to separate the Israelites from the practices of their defiled pagan Gentile neighbors who were unfit for worship and sacrifice; and so, acting as the spokesperson for the group, he asks for clarification.

Question: What is Jesus' answer?
Answer: Jesus clarifies the difference between ritual defilement and moral defilement. He speaks of the heart in the Biblical sense as the place of human understanding and action (for good and for evil) and contrasts the heart to the stomach and the intestines from which waste is emptied out into the latrines. Then, listing seven vices, Jesus' teaching is that these moral failures are what defile a person not unwashed hands.

That "evil thoughts" are listed among those numbered vices in the NAB translation that come "from the heart" in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21-23: From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile (Mk 7:21-23). The NJB translation, however, presents the list as six vices of evil intentions that come from the heart: For from the heart come evil intentions: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander (Mt 15:19). The problem is that in the Greek text there is no punctuation. In Matthew's Gospel the idea is not to list all the vices for which humans fail the law of love of God and neighbor, but if the list is seven, then as a "perfect" number, the list represents the fullness of man's depravity. If the list is six, since six is the number of man, the purpose could be to represent the kinds of vices that define man's failures. St. Mark lists thirteen human vices (Mk 7:21-23). St. Paul provides several lists of human vices (Rom 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor 12:20; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 4:31; 5:3-5; Col 3:5-8; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 6:4; 2 Tim 3:2-5; Tit 3:3). St. Peter's lists also human vices (1 Pt 4:3); and there is a list of vices in the book of Revelation (Rev 21:8, 22:15).

Matthew 15:21-28 ~ The Faith of the Canaanite Woman
21 Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." 23 But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." 24 He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But the woman came and did him homage, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." 28 Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as your wish." And her daughter was healed from that hour.

Jesus makes His second expedition into Gentile territory where Jews are living. His first visit into Gentile territory was the journey into the Decapolis (Mt 9:28-34). This time, He travels west toward the Mediterranean Sea into the district of two great Gentile trading centers, Tyre and Sidon. These cities were originally Phoenician cities but in Jesus' times were cities of Hellenistic culture and prestige that were under Roman rule.

A Gentile woman, described as a descendant of the Canaanites, approaches Him and asks Jesus to heal her daughter. The woman appeals to Jesus three times. In the first appeal she respectfully calls Jesus "son of David," acknowledging His Messianic title as the Davidic heir. Jesus' first reply seems unfeeling.

Question: What does Jesus tell her and why? Quote an Old Testament passage that defines the Messiah's mission. Are the Gentiles to be excluded from the Gospel of salvation?
Answer: He tells her that He has only come for the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." This is His Messianic mission as stated in Ezekiel chapter 34. It is His mission to gather the scattered sheep of Israel and to heal and restore God's people of the new Israel to fulfill their destiny to carry the Gospel of salvation to the Gentile nations of the earth.

Question: She is not discouraged by Jesus reply; Mark tells us she falls at His feet in homage (Mk 7:25). What is her second appear and His second reply? Who are "the children" Jesus came to feed and who are the dogs? Hint: dogs were unclean animals and Jews often referred to Gentiles as "dogs", unfit for worship or sacrifice. Mark softens Jesus response with: let the children be fed first (Mk 7:25a)
Answer: She prostrates herself before Him and again appeals for His help. His response is that what is intended for the children of Israel is not meant for the Gentile "dogs."

In the Greek Jesus' response is softened by the term "little dogs" or "puppies" (kynarion); suggesting domesticated "house dogs." Jesus is testing the woman's faith. Nevertheless, His answer is the same that He gave the Samaritan woman at the well: salvation is from the Jews (Jn 4:22). The Gentile woman continues to press her petition.

Question: What argument does she make in response to Jesus second rebuke?
Answer: Her clever reply is that even the house dogs eat the scraps under their master's table, suggesting that Jews as well as Gentiles are fed by God.

The result of the persistence of her petition and her belief that Jesus could heal her daughter is rewarded. Jesus compliments her on her faith and heals her daughter.

Matthew 15:29-31 ~ The Galilee Healings Continue
29 Moving on from there Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. 30 Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. 31 The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.

Jesus' compassion and His healing are in fulfillment of the prophecies of the prophets in Isaiah 29:18 (healing of the deaf and blind) and 35:4-6 (healing of the blind, lame, mute and deaf), as He told St. John the Baptist's disciples (Mt 11:4-5).

Matthew 15:32-39 ~ The Miracle Feeding of the Four Thousand
32 Jesus summoned his disciples and said, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for thee days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way." 33 The disciples said to him, "Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd? 34 Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" "Seven," they replied, "and a few fish." 35 He ordered the crowd to sit down [recline] on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over "seven baskets full. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, not counting women and children. 39 And when he had dismissed the crowds, he got into the boat and came to the district of Magadan.

This miracle feeding is only retold in Mark 8:1-10.

Question: How many days did the crowd stay with Jesus? Why is that number significant?
Answer: The crowd stayed Jesus a significant three days. Three is the number of importance, completion and fulfillment; especially signifying an important event in salvation history.

The mention of the location of Jesus' teaching being a "deserted place" or "wilderness" (repeated from the first miracle feeding in 14:15) brings to mind the Old Testament miracle feeding of the manna in the wilderness and may be an allusion to Jesus as the new Moses feeding His people.

Question: What are some of the differences between the two miracle feedings?
Answer: Instead of listening to Jesus teach most of the day, this crowd has been with Jesus three days. In the first feeding miracle there were five loaves of bread and two fishes for a total of seven. More than five thousand were fed with twelve baskets left over and gathered. In this feeding miracle there are seven loaves and a few fish (not counted), with more four thousand people fed and seven baskets of collected leftover food.

Jesus returns from the Gentile occupied region near Tyre and Sidon to perform another miraculous feeding miracle. This miracle is very much like the first except we are told that there are seven loaves of bread and the number of fish is not given. We are also told that again the people ate their fill; seven baskets were left over and collected by the disciples. Some of the Gentiles who heard of Jesus' healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman may have followed Jesus back into the territory of Gennesaret. If so, the numbers seven and four may symbolize the coming of the Gentile nations. Four, as in the four thousand, is the number of the earth and its peoples, while seven Gentile peoples were said to inhabit Canaan (Dt 7:1). If the twelve baskets represent the gathering in of Israel, then the seven baskets may represent that the Messianic blessings are also intended to reach the Gentile nations "as symbolized by the granting of the request of the Gentile woman who is identified as a Canaanite "the people who were dispossessed of the "Promised Land" (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew, pages 199-200).

Matthew 15:39 ~ And when he had dismissed the crowds, he got into the boat and came to the district of Magadan. The district of Magadan is unknown, but is assumed to be on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Some scholars believe it is another name for the city of Magdala, a town on the western shore about four miles north of Tiberias and the home of Jesus' disciple Mary of Magdala. It was a center of fishing and fish packing. Mark names the destination as the region of Dalmanutha, also an unknown name.

This feeding miracle, like the earlier one, points to the Eucharist. Early Christians saw the link depicting the miracles of the bread and fish as symbols of the Eucharist in the earliest examples of Christian art in the Roman catacombs. It will be in the repeating of the blessing and the breaking of the bread, as Jesus did in the feeding miracles and at the Last Supper, that His disciples will recognize Him after His Resurrection in Luke 24:30-31: And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: In the miracle of Jesus' walking on the waves of the storm, Jesus grants St. Peter's request to join Him walking on the waves. Everything is good until Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and sees the power of the storm; suddenly he begins to sink. What is the lesson we can take from Peter's experience and from Peter's response to his peril as applied to our own journies of faith?

Question: What comparisons can you make between Jesus' feeding miracles and the miracle feeding of Christ in the Eucharist?

Question: What lessons can be gained from the story of the faith and persistence of the Canaanite woman?

Endnotes:

  1. A "tetrarch" was one step below an "ethnarch" which was one step below a king. In his will, Herod made his son Archelaus the "ethnarch" of Judea, his son Antipas tetrarch of the Galilee and Perea, and his son Herod Philip (died 34 AD) the tetrarch of territories on the north and east of the Galilee in what had been the ancient territory of the Bashan (see Lk 3:1). Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and a Samaritan woman named Malthace. He was the "tetrarch" of the Galilee and Perea from the time of his father's death (c. 1 BC/AD) until 39 AD. The term "tetrarch" originally meant one who ruled a quarter of a region, but by the 1st century it was more commonly used for any lesser ruler of a Roman dependent state (International Critical Commentary: Matthew, vol. II, page 467). In 39 AD, at the urging of Herodias, Herod Antipas unsuccessfully petitioned the Roman Emperor Caligula for the royal title "king." However, Caligula gave the title to Herodias' brother Herod Agrippa I who had remained loyal to him, even suffering imprisonment by Caligula's uncle, the Emperor Tiberius. Herod Antipas' reward was to be deprived of his territories and sent into exile, where he later died. To her credit, Herodias chose to accompany him into exile (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.240-56).
  2. There is some confusion over the fact that Herod the Great had two sons named Philip: (1) Philip whose mother was Mariamme (granddaughter of the High Priest Simon) was the first husband of his niece Herodias, the daughter of Herod the Great's son Aristobulus and his wife Bernice (daughter of Herod the Great's sister, Salome) and Herod the Great had a second son named Philip, who was Herod's son by Cleopatra of Jerusalem.
    Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him; if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or remission] of some sins but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2/116-17
  3. St. Luke's account locates the first feeding miracle near Bethsaida (Lk 9:10), Sts. Peter and Andrew's hometown on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was not an area within Herod Antipas' territory and seems a logical location to retreat to after St. John's execution.
  4. The first year of Jesus' ministry began at Cana just before Passover (Jn 2:1, 13).
  5. Christian tradition has identified the site as Tabghah, located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee two miles south of Capernaum.

 

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

13:55

495*, 500

15:19

2517

14:13-21

1335*

15:19-20

1853

14:19

1329*

15:22

439*, 448*

14:30

448*

15:28

2610

15:3-7

579*

15:32-39

1335*

15:18-19

1968*

15:36

1329*