Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Jeremiah 28:1-17; Matthew 14:13-21)
An interpretation of today’s gospel has captivated many through the centuries. It sees Jesus’ power in feeding the multitudes not so much providing as persuading. That is, rather than somehow producing food for the thousands who stand before him, he merely convinces those who have brought provisions to share with those who are improvident. The result is everyone being full and walking away as friends. This way of telling the story leaves us edified but complacent. “I know someone who could do that,” we might say.
However, such a reading does not come to terms with the context of the miracle. Why does the story say Jesus takes compassion on the people? What is the significance of their being in a deserted place? Do not the details of seven objects to be distributed and twelve baskets of leftovers have special meaning? These indicators should make us aware that the gospel tradition has something very different in mind than Jesus as a convincing orator. They hint that Jesus, like the Lord in Exodus, cares for his followers and provides for their needs. The meager provisions, like the manna found on the desert floor, are sufficient because he stands behind them. The abundant oversupply indicates that he will feed a nation of followers.
Hearing the story the way that it was told and retold in the first century, we can assure ourselves that Jesus cares for us. Maybe we have just lost a job and feel very uncertain about making house payments in six months. The gospel is assuring us that we need not curse or lose sleep. Jesus takes compassion on us and will provide. We need only recommit ourselves to him.