Lectio Divina: Matthew 14:13-21
1) Opening prayer
Father of everlasting goodness,
our origin and guide,
be close to us
and hear the prayers of all who praise You.
Forgive our sins and restore us to life.
Keep us safe in Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - 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." He 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.
• Context. Chapter 14 of Matthew, which contains the account of the multiplication of the loaves, provides an itinerary that guides the reader in a progressive discovery of faith in Jesus: from the lack of faith on the part of His fellow countrymen to the acknowledgment of the Son of God, passing through the gift of bread. The fellow citizens of Jesus marvel at His wisdom but do not understand that this is what acts behind His works. Besides, having a direct knowledge of Jesus’ family, of His mother, of His brothers, and of His sisters, they only succeed in seeing in Him His human condition alone: He is the son of the carpenter. Not being understood in His own home town, from now on, Jesus will live in the midst of His people, to whom He will give all His attention and His solidarity, healing and feeding the crowds.
• The dynamic of the account. Matthew has carefully narrated the episode of the multiplication of the loaves. The episode is enclosed between two expressions of transition in which he tells us that Jesus withdrew (“separated Himself”) from the crowds, from the disciples, from the boat (vv.13-14; vv.22-23). Verse 13 does not only serve as transition but offers us the reason why Jesus went to a deserted place. Such a device serves to create the environment in which the miracle takes place. The evangelist concentrates the account on the crowd and on Jesus’ attitude in regard to the crowd.
• Jesus was moved deeply to pity. At the moment when Jesus arrives He finds Himself before a crowd awaiting Him; on seeing the crowd He took pity on them and healed their sick. This is a “tired and depressed crowd, for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36; 20:34). The verb that expresses Jesus’ compassion is really meaningful: “Jesus’ heart was broken”; and this corresponds to the Hebrew verb that expresses maternal visceral love. This is the same sentiment experienced by Jesus before the tomb of Lazarus (Jn 11:38). Compassion is the subjective aspect of the experience of Jesus that becomes effective with the gift of the bread.
• The gift of the bread. The account of the multiplication of the loaves is opened with the expression, “when evening came” (v.15) that will introduce the account of the Last Supper (Mt 26:20) and also that of the burial of Jesus (Mt 27:57). In the evening, then, Jesus invites the Apostles to feed the crowd. In the middle of the desert, far away from the villages and from the cities, Jesus and the disciples find themselves before a very big human problem: to feed the big crowd that follows Jesus. They cannot take care of this task to provide for the material needs of the crowd without the power of Jesus. Their immediate response is to send the crowd back home. In the face of human limitations Jesus intervenes and works the miracle satisfying the hunger of all the people who follow Him. To feed the crowd is Jesus’ response, from His heart which breaks in the face of a very concrete human need. The gift of the bread is not only sufficient to satisfy the crowd but it is so superabundant that it becomes necessary to gather what was left over. In v.19b we can see that Matthew gave a Eucharistic significance to the episode of the multiplication of the loaves: “He raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing, and breaking the loaves He handed them to His disciples”; the role of the disciples is also made evident in their function of mediation between Jesus and the crowd: “and the disciples distributed to the crowd” (v.19c). The gestures that accompany the miracle are identical to those that Jesus will fulfill later, on the “night when He was betrayed”. He raised his eyes, blessed the bread and breaks it. From here comes the symbolic value of the miracle: it can be considered an anticipation of the Eucharist. On the part of Jesus, feeding the crowds is “a sign” that He is the Messiah and that He prepares a banquet of joy for all humanity. The disciples learn from Jesus, who distributes the bread to them, the value of sharing. A symbolic gesture that contains a real fact that goes beyond the episode itself and is projected on the future: in our daily Eucharistic celebration, where we relive that gesture of the broken bread, it is necessary that it be multiplied throughout the whole day.
4) Personal questions
• Do you try to extend gestures of solidarity toward those who are close to you or who are close to you along the journey of life? In the face of very concrete problems of your friends or relatives, do you know how to offer your help and your availability to collaborate to find a solution?
• Before breaking the bread, Jesus raised His eyes to heaven: do you know how to thank the Lord for the daily gift of bread? Do you know how to share your goods with others, especially with the poorest?
• Do you share your life with the poorest (as well as immigrants) or just share from your excess? Do you know of their lives personally or just from the news, statistics, or the internet?
5) Concluding Prayer
Keep me far from the way of deceit,
grant me the grace of Your Law.
Do not deprive me of that faithful word,
since my hope lies in Your judgments. (Ps 119:29,43)