Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21

Mat 14:13  Which when Jesus had heard, 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 (i.e., of the death of John the Baptist). Hilary, Origen, Jerome see in the death of the Baptist the end of the Old Covenant, so that after that event the Jews as a nation are rejected (note “as a nation,” not a people. See Rom 11:25-29), and our Lord’s main work is concerned with the instruction of his apostles in order to purge their Messianic ideas of all Pharisaic admixture. Consequently, the evangelist shows first how they are led to know and profess the divinity of Jesus [Matt 14:13-36]; secondly, how they are separated from the Pharisees [Matt 15:1-16:12]; thirdly, how they are subjected to Peter’s primacy [Matt 16:13-17:27]; fourthly, how they must behave as princes of the Church [Matt 18:1-20:28], It must also be noted that Peter’s confession [Matt 16:18] is really the climax of this part, since the preceding sections lead up to it, and the succeeding ones are based on it. That, the apostles appear more intelligent of heavenly truth in the first gospel than they are according to the second agrees perfectly with the different scope of the two evangelists: the first depicts the guilt of the Jews by showing that their countrymen easily understood the doctrine of Jesus, while the second explains to his Roman readers the curious fact that the Jews rejected their own Messias, by showing that even the apostles found it difficult to adjust their Messianic ideas with the doctrine and person of our Lord. Another feature peculiar to the first gospel is the prominence it gives to the person of Peter; the reason lies in the necessity of accounting for the organization of the Church as distinct from that of the Synagogue.

The divinity of our Lord is learned and professed after a double miracle, consisting of the multiplication of loaves [Matt 14:13-21], and the walking on the sea [Matt 14:22-36].
When Jesus had heard” not only the death of John, not only the expressions of Herod [cf. verse 2], but both; while the disciples of John “came” [verse 12], the reort of Herod’s apprehensions, too, arrived. Beside the reason for Christ’s retirement, indicated by Mt., there was also the wish of giving his apostles a little rest [Mk 6:30-35], “He retired” not through fear [Jerome], but because his hour had not yet come; though the enemies could have done nothing against him[cf. Jn 7:30; 8:20], still the apostles needed further instruction, and the time of grace for the people as a body had passed. The “desert place apart” was the great plain southeast of Bethsaida, on the eastern shore of Lake Genesareth [Lk 9:10]. Bethsaida, or “house of fishing,” from the great shoals of fish attracted thither by the hot springs, called also “Julias” after the daughter of Augustus, was built by Philip the tetrarch, on both sides of the Jordan [so that we are not obliged to assume a Bethsaida west of the lake], about two miles above the Sea of Galilee. The multitudes “out of the cities” around the lake, fording the Jordan before it enters the sea [there is a ford even now], “followed him [Jesus] on foot,” and rounding the northern extremity of the lake, by a journey of about two hours, came to the place for which the apostles’ boat headed, even before our Lord’s arrival.

Mat 14:14  And he coming forth saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick.

Coming forth” not from the boat, as some infer from Mk 6:33, but from “a desert place apart,” as others. maintain on account of Jn 6:3, 5, Jesus saw the multitude, had compassion on them, healed their sick, and taught them much [Mk 6:34], speaking of the kingdom of God [Lk 9:11].

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.
Mat 14:16  But Jesus said to them, They have no need to go: give you them to eat.

Mat 14:17  They answered him: We have not here, but five loaves, and two fishes.
Mat 14:18  Who said to them: Bring them hither to me.

When it was evening” refers to the so-called first evening [3-6 o’clock], while verse 23 refers to the second [6-9 o’clock]. “His disciples” are anxious for the multitudes, and admonish therefore their Master first that the place is without provisions, “a desert place“; secondly, that the day is nearly over, “the hour is now past“; thirdly, that the people must go into the surrounding farms and villages to buy provisions; this is followed by our Lord’s address first to the “disciples, give vou them to eat“, and then to Philip concerning the means of feeding the multitudes [Jn 6:5], an event in no way incompatible with the synoptic account. Neither the words to Philip in the fourth Gospel, nor those addressed to the apostles [“they have no need to go, give you them to eat“] serve merely to manifest the greatness of the miracle [cf. Jerome], or to show the need of miraculous aid; but drawing attention to the great powers given to the apostles [Mt 10:18; Mk 6:13; Lk 9:6], they excite their faith in the power of Jesus. Next follows the question, “How many loaves have you?” [Mk 6:38], and then the accurate statement of the present resources: “Five loaves and two fishes.”

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.

Upon the grass” corresponds with Mark’s “green grass” [Mk 6:39], and confirms John’s “the pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand” [Jn 6:4 i.e., the grass was green because it was passover time; early spring]. “Looking up to heaven,” not to indicate the origin of his power [cf. Hilary], nor to obtain power for the following miracle [cf. Origen], but to show his equality with the Father [Chrysostom], and to teach us whence we must expect our necessaries of life; “he blessed” not merely after the manner of pronouncing a blessing before meals, but with the power of the Father [Gen 1:22], who by his blessing gave the power to increase and multiply. The form of the loaves rendered their breaking easy; since he “gave the loaves to his disciples, and [since] the disciples [gave them] to the multitudes,” the miracle happened in the hands of the apostles [cf. Hilary] , either by a process of creation or a substantial change of alien matter into bread, so that the disciples almost touched with their hands an event inexplicable as an allegory [cf. Origen, Hilary, and partly Jerome, Lapide and others], or a myth owing its origin to Old Testament narratives [cf. Rationalists], but intelligible only by admitting a miraculous interference of omnipotent power [cf. Hilary, Thomas]; thus the disciples learned the limitless help they might expect in their ministry from their divine Master.


Mat 14:20  And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments.
Mat 14:21  And the number of them that did eat, was five thousand men, besides women and children.

The evangelist notes two effects [Thomas]: first, “they did all eat, and were filled“; secondly, “they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments.” The first effect is emphasized by “the number of them that did eat,” for they were “five thousand men, besides women and children,” a manner of counting well known from the Pentateuch [cf. Maldonado]. The second effect is illustrated by the custom of the Jews to carry a basket [cf. Juvenal, Sat. iii. 14 ; vi. 542] , not in memory of the Egyptian bondage [cf. Ps 80:6], nor for commerce, but to keep a supply of legally clean food on hand, and to have a legally pure bed. Cyril draws a parallel between the multiplication of loaves in the desert and the rain of manna.

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One Response to Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21

  1. Pingback: Commentaries and Resources for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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