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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 14

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-12

The Death of John the Baptist (14:1-12; see Mark 6:14-29).

The story of the beheading of John the Baptist lays bare the weakness, the cruelty, and the superstitious fears of that ill-fated person, King Herod. He would perhaps have spared the life of the prophet, either from political considerations (Matthew 14:4) or from fear (Mark 6:20), but the seductiveness of a girl and an oath likely pronounced while drunk were sufficient to bring about the murder.

And now there arises another prophet, whose reputation reaches the palace (vs. 1 ). Herod trembles. Could this be John the Baptist alive again? Fear produced by a troubled conscience inevitably was to be transposed into hatred. Herod was perhaps the only person whom Jesus had openly scorned (see Luke 13:31-33; Luke 23:9).

Verses 13-21

The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fish (Matthew 14:13-21; see Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 6:35-44; Mark 8:1-9; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14)

At the news of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew for a time to a lonely place, on the other side of the lake. This territory offered greater security, since it was under the jurisdiction of the Tetrarch Philip. The Gospel writers point us to several such retreats of Jesus. He avoided open conflict until the hour appointed by the Father had come. Soon he will announce that this hour is near.

The crowds followed Jesus "on foot"; that is, they went around the lake to rejoin him. They listened to his teaching with such eagerness that evening came before any provision had been made for food. The disciples grew uneasy. Jesus replied to them: "You give them something to eat."

The story of the multiplication of the loaves is reproduced six times in the four Gospels. It had assumed, therefore, a particular importance in the Gospel tradition. What is its significance? This is the true question. For the raw fact, the "how" of this multiplication of bread, always escapes us, and we are obliged to receive the story just as the tradition has transmitted it to us.

The story underlines first the concern of Jesus for the bodily needs of men. Jesus is disturbed by the hunger of this crowd and commands his disciples to feed them. And this remains true for all times. The compassion of Jesus (vs. 14) includes the whole man. He had refused to perform a miracle of bread for himself (Matthew 4:3), but he remains all-powerful to feed the hungry whom God has put in his way, and he desires that the faith of his disciples should achieve the same result, no matter how meager their means! This message is very important in today’s world where the contrast is more acute than ever between "the haves" and "the have nots."

In the second place, this act points to scriptural precedents. Had not Moses, at God’s order, fed Israel in the wilderness? (Exodus 16). Had not Elisha fed a hundred men with "twenty loaves of barley" and a few ears of grain? (2 Kings 4:42-44). Here is One greater than Moses and Elisha.

The essential point of the story, however, is the Messianic meaning which it conveys. In New Testament times the coming Kingdom was described under the form of a banquet (Matthew 8:11). Prior to this, in the Old Israel the Covenant was sealed by a meal (see Genesis 14:18; Exodus 24:9-11). Jesus is shown opening the meal by giving thanks (vs. 19). This brotherly love feast anticipates the Lord’s Supper, and beyond that Supper the great gathering of the children of God at the banquet of the Kingdom. It is this meaning which John gives to this event (John 6).

Will not the permanent miracle of the Church, which is the fruit of prayer and of love, be the nourishing of the crowds with "five loaves and . . . two fish"? Will not the mystery of God in every age be the astonishing disproportion between our human means and the unlimited power of his grace?

Verses 22-36

Peter Walking on the Water

(Matthew 14:22-36; compare Mark 6:45-56; John 6:15-21; Matthew 8:23-27)

Jesus withdrew from his disciples "by himself to pray" (vss. 22-23). Do we have a clear idea of how rare solitude was at this point in the life of Jesus? He found it only in the night; and in order to find it he had to flee the conditions resulting from tiny lodging quarters, that cruel lack of privacy imposed on the poor. To speak with his Father he had to go alone out into the fields by night

We have three accounts of the nighttime crossing which followed the multiplication of the loaves (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21). These are three traditions of the same event. All three point out the difficulty of the crossing and the sudden appearance of Jesus. They all indicate that the disciples did not recognize Jesus at first, and that he came toward them "walking on the sea." Matthew alone relates that Peter asked to go to meet the Lord; he walked on the water, but he was seized with fear and immediately began to sink and to cry for help. Jesus said to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" And all those in the boat prostrated themselves before the Lord, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God.’’ The mystery of this appearance of Jesus calls to mind the post-Resurrection appearance (see John 21). The disciples’ confession of faith anticipates that which will be made a little later (Matthew 16:16). It is permissible to raise the question whether we do not have here a certain development of the tradition in which the memory of the Risen One blends with that of the earthly ministry of Jesus. But the story as it has come to us is the bearer of a double message: (1) Jesus is Lord of the elements. He is clothed with the very power of God. He is not only the teacher whom they follow but also the Son before whom they prostrate themselves. (2) The faith which looks to Jesus only and obeys his word dares and can do anything. But the faith which begins to doubt "sinks," and runs the risk of foundering if the merciful hand of the Lord were not extended to save. Through the impulsive character of Peter, this story describes our own faith with its starts and failures.

The chapter concludes with one of those summaries of which the writer is fond and in which he likes to frame his stories. It shows us Jesus disembarking once more on the Galilean shore and the crowds Socking toward him.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 14". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-14.html.
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