18th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
The multiplication of the loaves
Come Holy Spirit
13 When Jesus received this news he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But the crowds heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. 14 So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick. 15 When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, 'This is a lonely place, and time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.' 16 Jesus replied, 'There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.' 17 But they answered, 'All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.' 18 So he said, 'Bring them here to me.' 19 He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then 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. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps left over, twelve baskets full. 21 Now about five thousand men had eaten, to say nothing of women and children.
c) A moment of silence:
so that the Word of God may enter into our hearts and enlighten our lives.
a) A key to the reading:
All the Evangelists tell the story of the multiplication of the loaves. While Luke and John only tell us of one multiplication of loaves (Lk 9: 10-17; Jn 6: 1-13), Mark and Matthew refer to two occasions of multiplication (Mk 6: 30-44; 8: 1-10; Mt 14: 13-21; 15: 32-39). It seems that both stories in Matthew and Mark came from the one source when loaves were multiplied, but which was passed on in two versions according to different traditions. Besides, the story in Mt 14: 13-21 and Mk 6: 30-44 seem to be the oldest versions. Here we focus on the subject of our lectio divina, that is, the text of Mt 14 13-21.
This text presents Jesus at the time when he received the news of the Baptist’s beheading by Herod (Mt 14: 12). He goes apart «in a lonely place» (Mt 14, 13). The Gospels often show us Jesus as someone who goes apart. Generally, but not always, this going apart presents a Jesus who is immersed in prayer. Here are some examples: «After sending the people away, he went up a hill by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone» (Mt 14: 23); «Very early in the morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and left the house. He went out of town to a lonely place, where he prays” (Mk 1: 35); «He would go away to lonely places, where he prayed» (Lk 5: 16); «led by the Spirit» after his baptism, Jesus goes away into the desert to be tempted by the devil and he overcomes the devil’s seductions by the power of the Word of God (Mt 4: 1-11; Mk 1: 12-13; Lk 4: 1-13). At other times, Jesus calls with him his disciples: «Let us go off by ourselves to someplace where we will be alone and you can rest a while» (Mk 6: 30-44). In our passage, Jesus prays before multiplying the loaves. The Gospels show that Jesus liked to pray before important events throughout his ministry such at his baptism, his transfiguration and his passion.
This time the crowd follows him in the desert (Mt 14: 13) and Jesus feels compassion for them and cures their sick (Mt 14: 14). We often see compassion in Jesus towards those who follow him (Mt 15: 32). The master is moved because they «were like sheep without a shepherd» (Mk 6: 34). Indeed, Jesus is the good shepherd who nourishes his people like the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4: 1-7, 42-44) and like Moses in the desert (Ex 16; Nm 11). In John’s Gospel, Jesus, in his discourse on the bread of life (Jn 6), explains the meaning of the sign of the multiplication of the loaves. This miracle is a preparation for the bread that will be given in the Eucharist. In all the Gospels, Jesus’ actions before he multiplies the loaves, recall the rite of breaking the bread, the Eucharist. The actions are: a) taking the bread, b) lifting «his eyes up to heaven», c) pronouncing “the blessing», d) breaking the bread, e) giving it to the disciples (Mt 14: 19). These actions are found in the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and, word for word, in the story of the last supper (Mt 26: 26).
All eat of the bread and are satisfied. Twelve baskets full of leftovers are taken up. Jesus is the one who satisfies the chosen people of God: Israel, made up of twelve tribes. But he also satisfies the pagans in the second multiplication (Mt 15: 32-39), symbolised now by seven baskets, the number of the nations of Canaan (Acts 13: 19) and also the number of the Hellenist deacons (Acts 6: 5; 21:8) who were given the task of providing for the daily distribution at table. The community gathered around Jesus, a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, welcomed Jews and Gentiles, all called to accept the invitation to share at the table of the Lord. Jesus shows this also by his action of sitting at table with publicans and sinners and, through his teachings in the parables of the banquet where «many will come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven» ( Mt 8: 11; see also Mt 22: 34; Lk 14: 16-24).
b) Some questions to guide our meditation and practice:
- What touched you most in this passage?
a) Psalm 78, 24-25:
He rained down manna to feed them,
b) Closing prayer:
O God, who in the compassion of your Son towards us, show us your fatherly goodness, grant that the bread multiplied by your providence may be broken in love, and the communion in the bread come down from heaven open us to dialogue with and service of our brothers and sisters. Through Christ our Lord.
There is one other point which I would like to emphasize, since it significantly affects the authenticity of our communal sharing in the Eucharist. It is the impulse which the Eucharist gives to the community for a practical commitment to building a more just and fraternal society. In the Eucharist our God has shown love in the extreme, overturning all those criteria of power which too often govern human relations and radically affirming the criterion of service: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mc 9:35). [...] Can we not make this Year of the Eucharist an occasion for diocesan and parish communities to commit themselves in a particular way to responding with fraternal solicitude to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world? I think for example of the tragedy of hunger which plagues hundreds of millions of human beings, the diseases which afflict developing countries, the loneliness of the elderly, the hardships faced by the unemployed, the struggles of immigrants. These are evils which are present - albeit to a different degree - even in areas of immense wealth. We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ (cf. Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged.
John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine, 28.
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