JULY 31, 2005, 18TH SUNDAY: MATTHEW 14: 13-21

JESUS TOOK THE FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH, BLESSED AND BROKE THEM AND GAVE THEM TO THE APOSTLES WHO IN TURN GAVE THEM TO THE PEOPLE. There is but one Gospel but it is recorded in four versions, each of which depicts the person of Jesus and his teaching from a distinct theological point of view. These four versions complement one another by stressing various aspects of our Lord’s personality and message. All four evangelists agree that he had special powers to work miracles and specially to bestow health on the sick. They are also in agreement that he did so out of compassion for suffering human beings. St John calls the miracles that he includes in his version of the Gospel, signs. By this word he indicates that these extraordinary deeds are not only acts of mercy performed from compassion, they also are revelations of God’s power and love, actively working for our salvation and so call for faith in Jesus as his special emissary.

The feeding of the five thousand men together with their wives and children with such a small quantity of bread and fish has a special significance for understanding who Jesus is. One indication of this is the fact that all four evangelists record the event in some detail. The first detail mentioned by Matthew is today’s version is that the miraculous multiplication of bread took place in a desert place. This does not refer to a sandy desert for there was grass there he adds. Rather, it was devoid of inhabitants and no stores for food were available. There is more to this word, however, than a description of the locality; it is a reminiscence of the desert in which the early Israelites wandered and found themselves without food. Then it was God who came to the rescue by sending them manna from heaven. On this occasion Jesus provides the bread from heaven for the thousands who represent the needy people of God. In other words, this miraculous feeding is an indication that Jesus acts with divine power and hints at the fact that he is God himself in the flesh.

That such is Matthew’s meaning is reinforced by the continuation of this passage. After this miracle, Jesus ascends a nearby mountain to pray alone. The apostles return to the other side of the lake but are surprised by a great tempest which threatens to capsize their craft. Jesus comes walking on the water, Matthew tells us, enters the boat and at that the storm and waves fall off. Those in the boat, he adds, adored him and exclaimed: "Truly you are the Son of God." In other words, they put their faith in Jesus as in some way divine, though they could not have said just how that could be. For Matthew , however, who wrote after the resurrection, that expression of faith had more meaning than it did when originally uttered, for he knew the life Jesus lives is the divine and eternal life of God himself.

It is not surprising then to discover that when St John wrote of the same wonderful feeding in the desert he emphasizes another facet of this heavenly bread: it is a sign of Jesus himself. In his account, Jesus comments: "The bread of God is the one who descends from heaven and gives life to the world. ... I am the bread of life; who comes to me will not hunger and who believes in me will never thirst(6:32, 35). For the Jews who first heard these words proclaimed it could not have been easy to grasp the implication that Jesus is fully equal to God the Father and absolutely one with him in his nature. John himself, no more than Matthew, did not have the means to clarify this most sublime of all mysteries. It required several centuries of reflection by some brilliant and highly educated thinkers to create the technical vocabulary needed to give such clarification as could be managed by human words. Yet, many believed what Jesus proclaimed about himself and put their trust in his claims. Trust prepared the way for faith; perhaps it is more accurate to say that trust is a dimension of faith. The two are inseparable in practice, even though as virtues they have distinct formal acts.

We are challenged by today’s Gospel to a faith that is more than a formal belief that Jesus worked a miracle of feeding; it is more than belief that he is truly the Son of God. Our challenge is so to believe in our Lord as God that we place all our trust in him as our Savior. This active trust entails our reliance on him confident that he is eternal life not only for others but for me, poor in merit as I am. It is this confident trust that opens the way to the love of God, that is offered to us in this Eucharist. May we open our hearts to it even now and know by experience that the Lord loves us and gave himself for us and our eternal life with him.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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