Matthew 14:13-21 | 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
A Miracle Sandwich
When she was about two, my daughter went through a phase where she didn’t want to read anything I suggested, including the stories in her children’s Bibles. So we compromised. She could choose any two stories on her shelf, but to hear the second, we had to read a Bible story first. It became her regular bedtime routine for as long as she had one—always three stories, with a Bible story in the middle.
I remembered this strategy as I reread this gospel passage this morning. Jesus sandwiches His teaching in between two miracles. First, “He cured their sick” (v. 14). Then after He spends the day teaching them, He feeds all of them (probably 15,000 people) with a mere five loaves of bread and two fish.
Jesus meets their immediate need first because “He is moved with pity” (v. 14). Cured or not, the people can choose whether to stay for the teaching. Some probably left, but I’m guessing not many. Jesus established trust because he didn’t use coercion: “I’ll heal you AFTER I teach you.” Similarly, my daughter’s immediate need was for some control. Any night, she could have chosen to skip the Bible story (and her second book). But when she saw I wasn’t going to force the Bible story, she wanted the full deal.
Relationship is the core of Jesus’s message, and at the core of relationship is trust. Once there’s trust, the miracles keep happening. The teaching is exactly what you need to hear at that precise moment. The person you sit next to on the mountain becomes your friend, your partner, a business partner, or offers a connection you needed at exactly that moment, even if you didn’t know it. The laugh brought on by a child’s antics in the midst of the teaching breaks open a crack in your soul that had been sealed for years. Or the growl in your stomach is unexpectedly silenced by a bit of fish and a slice or two of a shared barley loaf.
Unlike the first miracle of healing, which was all Jesus, the disciples distribute the food. But they don’t do it without Jesus. They don’t think it can be done, so Jesus directs them at every step. “Don’t send them away.” “Bring what you have.” “Give thanks for what is there, however small.” “Share.” “Believe there will be enough.” “Collect the remains.” Where the healing met the immediate needs, the feeding met an unknown and perhaps unexpressed need of the disciples: a reminder of the roots of their ability. They too needed to learn to trust in their relationship with Jesus.
The feeding of the 5,000 isn’t so much a story of the multiplication of food but a story of the multiplication of trust. When we trust enough to first establish, and then build, a relationship, the miracles are never-ending. Then we never want to skip the story in the middle—it might be the best one!