Year A 18th Sunday:  Matthew 14,13-22


14,13:  When Jesus received this news [the violent death of John the Baptist]

he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.

But the crowds heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot.

14,14:  So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd;

and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

14,15:  When evening came, the disciples went to him and said,

'This is a lonely place, and time has slipped by; so send the people away,

and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.'

14,16:  Jesus replied, 'There is no need for them to go:

give them something to eat yourselves.'

14,17:  But they answered, 'All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.'

14,18:  So he said, 'Bring them here to me.'

14,19:  He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass;

then he took the five loaves and the two fish,

raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing.

And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples,

who gave them to the crowds.

14,20:  They all ate as much as they wanted,

and they collected the scraps left over, twelve baskets full.

14:21: Now about five thousand men had eaten, to say nothing of women and children.

14:22:  And at once he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side

while he sent the crowds away.


Matthew relates the story of the multiplication of loaves to the story of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was killed by king Herod. Senseless. Because of the dance of a daughter. He promised her to give whatever she wanted. She chose the head of John the Baptist who was imprisoned at that moment. Such things happened in the time when Jesus lived. (And in the time I live?). Hearing that cruel message he wants to be alone. But no chance. With the story of such a king in the background people are searching for safety and salvation. And they know where they can find it.


Jesus withdraws. An important word in Matthew’s Gospel. It occurs four times in the story after the visit of the Magi (02,12-22). They have to ‘withdraw’ because of the threat of... king Herod. Historically speaking he is the grandfather of the Herod in the actual story. But the name, the sound and the threat are the same. In 04,12 Jesus withdraws when he hears that John the Baptist had been arrested. In 12,15 Jesus again withdraws because his opponents, the Pharisees, begin to plot against him, discussing how to destroy him. Now Jesus withdraws hearing about the killing of John the Baptist. But there will come a moment when he doesn’t withdraw anymore, but will head to Jerusalem to suffer, to be crucified and to rise from the dead (16,21). Doing so he will found the kingship of God there.

Seeing the crowds Jesus took pity (14,14). The Greek word used here has to do with intestines. He is stirred in his bowels. In the New Testament this word is only applied to God and to Jesus! This ‘to be stirred and to be moved’ is where God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace come from.

By the way, Jesus is following the path of the prophets of the Old Testament. In 2 Kings 04,42-44 we heard about a multiplication of loaves by the prophet Eliah.

Picture Meditation

The picture is to be read as a strip story. Above the upcoming sun. On the left side above, Jesus (in red) arrives in the boat with his disciples (the five loaves of bread with them already!). On the right side he has left the (empty) boat and meets all the people who come to him. Under that scene we see Jesus healing the people. There Saint Peter (besides Jesus with beard) and another disciple are already passing out bread. In the centre - with light green background: the scene of Jesus breaking the bread and the multiplication of loaves: the heart of the story. At the bottom - with the dark colours: Jesus sends the people away to go home (left); on the right the disciples are leaving by boat. The moon in the sky.

So the scene is framed by the sun and the moon; on the one side with the boat with Jesus and the disciples above left and the boat with disciples at the bottom on the right ; on the other side with the people coming to Jesus above and the people sent away at the bottom on the left. Even the wheelchair emphasizes the framing; at the bottom there is one wheelchair less!

In the centre Jesus is breaking the bread. Around him men and women and children (altogether twelve!) who are giving the bread to the people sitting in circles. Could I be one of these bread givers? With what should that correspond in my life? How do I give Jesus’ bread to people around me?

I am looking at all these people, one by one. I wonder what their background is. With what desire (prayer) did they come? I try to be in the place of each of them, waiting for bread from Jesus, taking it and eating it. It brings people together; it gives peace; it makes people speak with each other, it gives love, rest; it creates community.

Me too, I can receive Jesus’ bread in his words and in his sacrament. Does it do to me what I see before me in this picture?

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J