Mat 14:13 Which when Jesus had heard (i.e., that John had been executed), he retired from thence by a boat, into a desert place apart, and the multitudes having heard of it, followed him on foot out of the cities.
Which when Jesus had heard, &c. Herod, in the meanwhile, had been occupied with a war against Aretas, king of Arabia, and had not attended to the words and deeds of Jesus. But now that the fame of His many miracles was constantly increasing, he began to turn his attention to them, as Matthew relates in the beginning of this chapter; and was led to suspect that Jesus was John who had risen from the dead. This was why Jesus retired into the desert; 1, and primarily, that He may avoid Herod’s fury, who (as he had beheaded John) would seek to behead him again, in the person of Jesus, especially since it might easily occur to him, or be suggested to him by the Pharisees, that this was the Messiah, the King promised to the Jews, and expected for so many ages. Wherefore, fearing to be deprived of his kingdom, he would have cut Him off, as his father sought to destroy Christ when he cut off the infants at Bethlehem. 2. He retired in order that He might refresh, by a season of quiet, His Apostles, who were now returning from their preaching, and were wearied with their many labours.
By a boat: that by it He might go across the Sea of Galilee, or Tiberias, as appears from Joh_6:1. For this is the same history which S. John relates at greater length in his sixth chapter. Hence, it is plain that this took place about the Passover.
Into a desert place—Luke adds (Luk_9:10), which belonged to Bethsaida. Adrichomius (in his description of the Holy Land), Jansen, and others think that this desert in which Christ fed the five thousand was called Bethsaida, not because it was close to that city, but on the opposite shore, across the sea of Galilee, between Julias and Dalmanutha. They attempt to prove this, because S. John says Christ went away across the sea of Galilee, and Matthew (Mat_14:34) that He passed over the sea.
But I say this desert was near Bethsaida, on the same shore, and so between Bethsaida and Tiberias. This is proved, 1, because Luke says expressly (Luk_9:10), he went aside into a desert place, apart, which belongeth to Bethsaida. The Arabic has, into a desert place near Ale city, which is called Bethsaida.
2. Burchard testifies the same thing—viz., that this place was near Tiberias, and is called Mensa (a table).
3. Because Nicephorus (l 8, c. 3) writes that S. Helena built a church of twelve thrones in the place in which Christ fed the five thousand.
4. Because after Christ had made this multiplication of the loaves, when He fled from the multitude (who wished to make Him a king), He commanded His disciples to sail to Bethsaida, as though it had been nigh at hand. Again, John says (Joh_6:23): “There came other ships from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they had eaten bread, after that the Lord had given thanks.” This place, therefore, was near Tiberias, i.e., between it and Bethsaida. And when they did not find Him there, they went across the sea, where they found Him, as S. John subjoins.
To the argument that Christ is said to have crossed over the sea, I reply: He did not sail over to the opposite shore, but went from one part of the same shore to another place by sea, from one bay of the lake to another, or from one side of a bay to the other side, by a straight course across, instead of going round by the land and following the windings of the shore. So Francis Lucas, Maldonatus, and others. The mountain to which Jesus retired, and from which He came down to the crowds who followed Him (John vi. 3) seems to have formed this bay. Lastly, across means the same thing as beyond.
And the multitudes having heard of it &c. You will ask, How could people on foot follow Christ going across the sea in a ship? I answer, that when Christ went into the ship, the multitudes spread abroad His fame through the neighbourhood in all directions. Many, therefore, were stirred up to follow Christ going in a straight course in a ship, by passing round the sea of Galilee, until they came to Bethsaida, and from thence to Capernaum, where they found Christ, as S. John relates (Joh_6:24-25).
Mat 14:14 And he coming forth saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick.
And he coming forth, from His retirement in the desert of Bethsaida, He saw, &c. And they were as sheep not having a shepherd, says Mark (6:4). Learn hence from Christ, to prefer the care and convenience of others to your own ease and prayers.
Mat 14:15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying: This is a desert place, and the hour is now passed: send away the multitudes, that going into the towns, they may buy themselves victuals.
And when it was evening, &c.—the time of dinner, ie., of taking food.
Mat 14:16 But Jesus said to them, They have no need to go: give you them to eat.
But Jesus said, &c. Christ is preparing the way for the miracle of the multiplication of the bread. Therefore He detained the multitude until the evening, that His disciples might ask Him to dismiss them; whereupon He bids them to give them food, that thereby the miracle might be better attested and the benefit be more grateful, inasmuch as they saw themselves devoid of all means of supplying such vast numbers of people with bread in the desert. S. John adds: “He said to Philip: Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to try him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him: Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them that every one may take a little.”
Christ asked Philip rather than the others because he was more candid and docile than the rest, but not so quick-witted, and was accustomed to ask many things that were sufficiently plain-as (in Joh_14:8) he asked Christ, saying, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Thus S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and S. Cyril.
Two hundred pence would amount to about £20, which would nearly suffice to purchase bread for 2000 persons. But here there were 5000 men, besides women and children. Many were also hungry from long fasting. Truly, therefore said Philip that two hundred pennyworth would not suffice for feeding so great a multitude.
Mat 14:17 They answered him: We have not here, but five loaves, and two fishes.
They answered Him, &c. These fishes were already cooked, so that they might be immediately distributed by the Apostles, when Christ bade them. S. John explains this verse (Joh_6:8-9): “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said unto Him, There is a boy here, with five barley-loaves and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?”
Mat 14:18 Who said to them: Bring them hither to me.
who said to them, &c. That He might multiply them by His benediction. The Apostles obeyed and brought them. And this their prompt obedience and faith, together with their charity and desire to relieve the hunger of so many thousand people elicited this miracle from Christ.
Mat 14:19 And when he had commanded the multitude to sit down upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes.
And when He had commanded the multitude, &c. S. Mark relates the first part of this verse more at length: And he commanded them that they should make them all sit down by companies upon the green grass. These companies were the several gatherings of people collected together to dine. Whence Luke (ix. 14) calls them feasts (convivia, Vulg.) i.e., companies of guests, in which for the sake of propriety, the men lay down with the men, and the women by themselves with their children, as Matthew here intimates. For formerly people did not sit at tables upon benches, but reclined upon couches, which were drawn close to the tables. Here the grass supplied the place of couches. Christ commanded them to lie down in companies, that no one should be passed over without receiving his portion of bread and fish.
Looking up, &c. S. John has, Jesus took the loaves: and when he had given thanks, he distributed to them that were set down. Wherefore the heretics explain the word blessed, by He gave thanks: but wrongly. For Christ, according to His manner, gave thanks to the Father first, then blessed the loaves. For Mark says, looking up to Heaven he blessed and broke the loaves. And Luke, He looked up to Heaven, and blessed them, viz., the loaves, and broke and distributed them. Christ therefore here blessed both God by praising Him and giving Him thanks, and also the loaves themselves. This He did in order that He might draw down Divine grace upon them, by means of which they might be multiplied, and acquire strength and efficacy to nourish, strengthen, and exhilarate so great a multitude, just as much as though they had been fed upon a rich feast of flesh and wine. Christ by this benediction endued these loaves with some, not physical, but moral virtue; that is to say, He ordained and appointed them for miraculous multiplication, whereby He placed His hand, as it were, i.e., His own Divine virtue upon the loaves, that they should straightway be really multiplied. And this indeed He did by converting the neighbouring atmosphere, or some other material gradually, but without being perceived, into bread. For God creates nothing de novo out of nothing, but produces and transforms all things from the matter which was created at the beginning of the world. In a similar manner He multiplied the meal and the oil of the widow of Sarepta, for the sake of Elias. That these loaves were most excellent and endued with vast nutritive virtue is plain from this, that they were Divine loaves, produced by Christ by a miracle. For all God’s works are perfect. So God, when at the beginning of the world He blessed all the various species of created things, by this blessing endued them with these very powers of generating, propagating, and multiplying themselves: for He said, increase and multiply. Thus Christ instituting the Eucharist at the last Supper, blessed the bread and transformed it into His own body. And this multiplication of the loaves by means of Christ’s benediction was a kind of type of the transmutation in the Eucharist; for shortly afterwards He uttered His long discourse upon the Eucharist which S. John gives in his sixth chapter, when he compares the Eucharist to manna. “Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead, whoso eateth this bread shall live for ever.” S. Augustine gives the reason (Tract. 24. in John.) “From whence God multiplies the crops of corn from a few grains, from thence He multiplied the loaves in His own hands. For the power was in the hands of Christ. For those five loaves were, as it were seed, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by Him Who made the earth.” Whence S. Chrysostom says, “Those five loaves were multiplied in the hands of the disciples, and diffused abroad after the manner of a fountain.” As S. Hilary says, “Fragments succeed fragments, and that which was broken off continually escapes from Him who breaks it.” As S. Jerome says, “Whilst they break there was a sowing of food.”
Tropologically: Christ here teaches by this action, that bread and riches, corporeal as well as spiritual, are not diminished by being given in alms, but are multiplied a hundred and a thousandfold. Thus S. John, Patriarch of Alexandria, called on account of his liberality, the Almoner, was wont to say that he learnt by daily experience, that the more he gave to the poor, the more he received from God. He used to say, “I shall see, 0 Lord who will leave oft first, Thou in giving to me, or I in distributing to the poor.” So Leontius in his Life. Pope Adrian II. succeeded Nicolas I. A.D. 914.—this Adrian, says Platina was a friend of Pope Sergius, from whom he once received forty denarii as a gift. He went home and gave them to his steward, to distribute them amongst the pilgrims and beggars who were standing in the vestibule of his house. When he attempted to fulfill his master’s behest he found that it would be impossible with so small a sum to satisfy so vast a number as required assistance. He returned to Adrian, and explained how the matter stood. Then Adrian took the money, and came to the poor himself, and gave three denarii to everyone of them, reserving as many for his own household expenses. The steward marvelled at the miracle. Adrian said to him, do you see how kind and liberal the Lord is, especially to those who are liberal and bountiful to the poor?
S. Lydwin of Holland, a singular mirror of patience and charity, although she was poor herself was wont diligently to succour the poor. She had a few small coins in a purse: these she was always giving away, when others were supplied from heaven in their place, so that they never failed, but ever increased, and thus her purse came to be called the Jesu purse. Read her Life in Surius. See 2Co_9:6. seq., “He who soweth sparingly, shall also reap sparingly: and he that soweth in blessings, (Vulg.) i.e. many benefits, shall reap blessings, i.e. many benefits.” Wherefore when you give a loaf, or a coin to a poor man, you do not lose it, but you sow it; for as from one grain of seed many grains grow, so it is likewise with loaves and money.
Mat 14:20 And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments.
They did all eat. There was a vast multitude of women and little ones besides the five thousand men. For the women were more devoted and more curious to behold Christ the new Prophet, than the men were.
And were filled. You will say, there is no mention here of wine. How then
and were filled, if they drank nothing; for a dinner without anything to drink is a dog-banquet. I answer, Christ did not give them wine, because there were streams of water at hand, of which they might drink.
For to drink water is natural and wholesome, and sufficient for nature. Christ did not wish to excite their throats with wine. God gives food for necessity, not for luxury and gluttony. Thus, an angel brought to Elias in the desert bread and a cruse of water, but no wine. So a raven, by God’s command, brought daily half a loaf to S. Paul, the first hermit; but he used to quench his thirst at a neighbouring fountain. God did the same to other saints. Indeed, from Adam until the Deluge—a space of sixteen hundred years, to the time of Noah, who first planted a vineyard—religious men neither ate flesh, nor drank wine; but their food was fruit, and their beverage water. Yet they lived to be nine hundred years old. Abstinence, therefore, is the mother of health, as well as of wisdom and holiness.
And they took up, &c. They brought back, therefore, more bread than they had brought to Christ at first. For the twelve baskets would contain not five, but thirty or more loaves. It is probable Christ first broke the five loaves with His own hands, and in breaking multiplied them, and placed them in these baskets for distribution. These were afterwards, by His command, distributed by the Apostles to the different companies, and were gradually more and more multiplied; by which means they brought back to Christ as many baskets of fragments as they had received baskets of loaves from Him at the beginning. Cedrenus (Compend. Histor.) relates that these twelve baskets were carefully preserved in the Church of the Twelve Apostles, which Constantine the Great built at Constantinople.
In the Greek, these baskets are called cophini. They were much used by the Jews. This appears from a line in Juvenal: “The Jews have cophini and hay for furniture”.
Mat 14:21 And the number of them that did eat, was five thousand men, besides women and children.
Five thousand men, besides women and children. Some speculate that the number of women and children was equal to that of the men, but this seems unlikely given the deserted nature of the place.