Lectionary Year A
August 4, 2002
Matthew 14:13-21

Step III: Immediate Context


Pre: In Matthew 14:1-12 we read the story of the beheading of John the Baptizer. His head, after being cut off on account of both Herod's wife Herodias and her daughter, is served to Herod on a silver platter. This scenes appears to be a surreal and almost macabre setting for what is usually called the "feeding of the five thousand." After burying John's body, his disciples go and tell Jesus about what happened. Although we do not know what Jesus must have thought or felt at the moment when the message and its gruesome details were delivered to him, it seems safe to say that it must have made such an impact on him that he felt the necessity to be alone (v.13). And whatever emotions he must have felt, they did not keep him from ministering to those in need, for he had compassion on them and healed their sick (v.14). Jesus does not say anything with respect to John's death, not a single word. He simply acts. And Jesus acts stand in stark opposition to the story of bloodshed and violence of John's beheading. There (14:1-12), a life is taken "just for fun," one might say.

Here (14:13-21), Jesus heals the sick and provides nourishment, sustenance, indeed life to probably more than five-thousand people. No words, but actions. There violence, here compassion and life. Jesus actions are a powerful reminder of chapter 11, in which John, already imprisoned, sends his disciples to Jesus to ask him whether he was the one who was to come, or whether they should wait for another (11:2-6). In chapter eleven, Jesus send John's disciples back with a message, with words: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." In 14:13-21, we can watch the one at work who brings all of this about: Jesus himself. If John could have only seen it with his own eyes!

Post: Jesus disciples saw it, saw that Jesus was the one who was to come. They should have known that they did not have to wait for another. However, their eyes must have been blind, or they must have been plain stupid. Even as Jesus walks toward them across the water (14:22-33), and even as he invites Peter to step out of the boat to join him, there is a great display of doubt and "little faith." In 14:33 the disciples worship Jesus and identify him as "you are the Son of God," but one is left with the nagging doubt whether they truly knew what they were saying when they identified Jesus as such.

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