A different banquet, Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew seems to contrast two feasts that occur in remote places. Herod Antipas invited his powerful friends to a drunken banquet marked by seduction and the death of a prophet in the wilderness fortress of Machaerus. Jesus and his disciples withdrew to a desolate place where they fed a hungry crowd after healing their many sick. The worldly rule of Herod and the merciful rule of God could hardly be more different.

Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, This is a remote place, and its already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.

16 Jesus replied, They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.

17 We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish, they answered.

18 Bring them here to me, he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Commentary

What may not be apparent to you is that Johns death represented a threat to Jesus, especially when Herod believed Jesus to be John resurrected from the dead (Matthew 13:2). We have to go back to Matthew 4:12 to see that, upon hearing that John had been imprisoned, Jesus withdrew from Perea to Galilee. The very same action, described by the very same Greek verb, occurs when Jesus gets the sad news about Johns death. Herod Antipas will indeed eventually get his hands on Jesus, but Jesus will remain silent, and Herod will eventually return him to the custody of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea (Luke 23:6-12), for final disposition.

France suggests that Jesus may have retreated by boat just a few miles to the east of Capernaum, just past the inflowing Jordan River, to the empty shore in the tetrarchy of Phillip.[1] In any event, Jesus plan for isolation was thwarted when a crowd met him at the scene (verses 13-14). Moved by compassion, he healed their sick, a frequent theme in Matthew.

When evening neared, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away to deal with their hunger, but Jesus told his disciples to feed the people (verses 15-16)! No doubt that came as a shock, since the available food was totally inadequate (verse 17). In spite of the limited food, Jesus had it brought to him while he had the people sit down. Then he blessed the food and had the disciples distribute it (verse 19). And distribute it, and distribute it.

Verse 20 makes the shocking statement that all ate their fill, and considerable food was left over. The miracle is never described, but the completeness of it is obvious.[2] Matthew states that about 5,000 men ate, as well the women and children with them, a Jewish way of framing the number (verse 21). Matthew never calls this event a miracle, continuing the routine of simply telling what happened.

An Old Testament pattern fulfilled

Along with Osborne, I see in this miracle a distinct echo of the feeding miracle performed by Elisha the prophet in 2 Kings 4:42-44.[3] However, I think Osborne does not go far enough in light of Matthews proven tendency to use midrash in his writing. Recall that midrash was a Jewish technique that compared one Scripture with another. The situation in the Old Testament was one in which one prophet (Elisha) took over for another (Elijah), when Elijah was taken into heaven. Events demonstrated that Elisha worked even greater miracles than Elijah had done.

Matthew has presented both John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets, though in Jesus case that was only one of his roles. Jesus has named John as the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14). John has, like Elijah, been taken from the scene, but Jesus, like Elisha, remains to do even greater things than John.

In 2 Kings 4, Elisha feeds a hundred men with twenty loaves of bread, and he had had some left over just as God had promised (2 Kings 4:44). Matthew presents an occasion when Jesus did a far greater work than Elisha the prophet, including the food left over. Not only does this demonstrate the complete supremacy of Jesus, but it also shows that Gods work in the world moves forward no matter what setbacks, such as the death of John, may occur. Matthews midrash helps reveal the hidden depth of Scripture.

How does an account such as this encourage you to entrust your needs to the compassion of Jesus?

 

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 560.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 567.

[3] Osborne, Matthew, 566.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!