I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 14:13-21
C. Other texts for Year A, Sunday July 31st, in Ordinary Time
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
13a Jesus withdraws to a deserted place to grieve the execution of John the Baptist.
13b Are the crowds following him because they wanted to see him? Or because they wanted to comfort him in his grief over the death of his cousin? Allusion to Ps 23 (Lord as Shepard).
14 Presuming the people came to compassionately minister to Jesus in his time of grief, it is interesting that they receive compassion and healing. But is that not often the case?
15 Similarly the disciples attempt to be compassionate to the crowd it the way that they are familiar.
16 Following the parable of the mustard seed that grows into a tree which gives shelter, and the wheat that yields 100x/60x/30x, the miraculous should be expected.
17 Yet the disciples continue to think conventionally.
18-19 But Jesus does not expect them to think miraculously. If he had, he might have instructed them to bless the loaves and to break them rather than doing it for them. Allusion Ps 23 (Makes me lie down in green pastures). Allusion to the Eucharist.
20-21 Testimony that this was not simply a sharing of a few morsels, but a miraculous feeding. Allusion to Exodus 16 & Numbers 11 — manna and quail.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Skips over the execution of John the Baptizer and stops before Jesus sends the disciples and the crowd away so he could meditate alone. This eliminates the reason for Jesus’ withdrawal and focuses the selection on the feeding.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- v. 20: NIV presumes that the disciples are the ones collecting the pieces.
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
Mark 6:30-44 Essentially the same story. Mark adds that the people were aimless and a protest by the disciples over the cost of a meal for so many people.
Mark 8:1-10 The occasion for the needing the meal is the crowd’s presence for three days. Still the disciples do not know where they will get the food. This time they have seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. But only four thousand are fed and only seven baskets of leftovers are found.
Luke 9:10-17 Essentially the same story. Luke locates the event outside Bethsaida.
John 6:1-13 John locates this event across the Sea of Galilee. (If from Jerusalem this would place it at Bethsaida.) The crowd is following Jesus because of the signs he has performed, rather than John’s death. John says this occurs near Passover. Jesus asks Philip where they would get food for the crowd, a test which Philip fails when he complains of the cost (same amount as Mark 6). Andrew is credited with finding a boy with five loaves and two fish. The crowd is five thousand in all (presumably including the women and children). The feeding is recognized by the crowd as a sign that Jesus is a prophet.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
Jesus Throughout the passage Jesus calmly fulfills his calling to serve. (see Matt 20:28 – “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve”).
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
5 loaves of bread —
2 fish —
12 baskets of remnants — Twelve disciples? Twelve tribes of Israel?
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Shows Jesus’ as a servant and teaching servanthood to his disciples. The meal also foreshadows the Eucharist and the disciples giving the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation to the people.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- The disciples do not yet understand the power with which they have been entrusted.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes obscures all of the other details.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
B. T. Viviano in the NJBC: “Matthew” notes that the twelve baskets of leftovers indicate the twelve tribes under the twelve disciples thus the second feeding in chapter 15 denotes the feeding of the Gentiles.
M. E. Boring in the NIB: “Matthew” notes the contrast between King Herod’s banquet and King Jesus’ banquet. He attributes Jesus’ withdrawal as reflecting Jesus nonviolent reaction to hostile earthly powers.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?