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Whenever St Matthew makes a reference to a previous event, he is telling us to take it very seriously. He begins today with “when Jesus heard of it”. The it was the section immediately preceding this one usually called the martyrdom of St John the Baptist. Yet Matthew will emphasize the dinner at which it occurred and as we prepare for the next stage in our lives as Christians in general and members of St Charles Borromeo church in particular so should we.
St Matthew has shortened St Marks version of this story, but the outlines are still there. John had condemned Herod for marrying his brother’s Wife Herodias. John was popular among the people and Herod did not want him free to preach rebellion but also did not want to make a martyr of him. At his birthday banquet Herodias’ daughter performed a dance, which we may presume lascivious. This delighted Herod and, no doubt influenced by alcohol, he offered her anything she wanted. He perhaps thought she would want a necklace or fine linens but at her mother’s urging she asked for the head of John the Baptizer. Meals are revelatory in the Bible and this one certainly revealed a dysfunctional family and a world closed in on itself. John was immediately executed and after his disciples buried him, they went to Jesus.
This is where our passage begins.
Here we have a totally different dynamic. Jesus goes out to the crowd which was following him and unlike Herod who was motivated by lust and calculation Jesu was filled with pity and his heart went out to them. He cured their sick, certainly a great gift, but then offered them something more.
Miracles usually begin with something physical but then reveal another dimension. So it is here. It is late and the people were getting hungry and needed to eat. The disciples suggest that Jesus send them away. Jesus does not cast out he brings in and tells them to give them something to eat themselves. All they have are “five loaves and two fish”. He tells the people to recline, takes the bread and fish, looks up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves. The apostles were then able to feed everyone till they were satisfied.
The Jews both in Jesus’ original audience and in Matthew’s community would have seen many references to the Old Testament. (I have put some of these on our website for your inspection). All Christians however would recognize both the last supper and our own Eucharists. (The last supper in Mathew is also included on the website.) It too was in the night, the apostles reclined as for a formal dinner, Jesus blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples. He then told them that he would celebrate this again with them in the Kingdom.
We must remember that the kingdom does not mean only heaven. The kingdom as we have seen in the parables, we have read for the last several weeks is already here in the ministry of Jesus and then the Church but not yet completed. We can begin our celebration here and now and unlike the Herod’s this meal brings life.
We need to look at one other detail.
After all were satisfied, they “picked up the fragments left over, twelve wicker baskets full”.
Twelve reflect the twelve tribes of the Jewish people. He makes twelve disciples apostles and gives them authority over these tribes. Yet the twelve tribes did not exist for centuries. The 10 tribes of the northern kingdom were dispersed with the Assyrian invasion of 721BC. Even the Judeans were divided by the Babylonians centuries later. This would be like putting the toothpaste back in the tube. It humanly can’t be done. Yet this was a sign of the Messiah. The Jews called it the ingathering of the people.
The gathering of the fragments into 12 baskets was a sign that the Eucharist which would develop and which the 12 would celebrate would fulfill this requirement. The original members of Matthews community were born Jews and would have responded to this very favorably. Yet always with Matthew Jesus is expanding the notion of community. He ends his Gospel with the great command
Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
This might not have been as well accepted by them but Matthew did not see the Church destroying Judaism or even replacing it but expanding it We will see for the next 2 weeks in our reading from the letter to the Romans how Paul develops this idea but we will need to ask ourselves as we renew St Charles how we are going to live it.
The Second Vatican council referred to the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life”. Every aspect of our faith is connected and energized by it. But Eucharist is a verb. Its celebration creates and maintains our covenant relationship with God and our fellow humans. We have celebrated the Eucharist properly when we deepen those relationships. At our Thursday night book-club we read that “Eucharist makes the Church”. I know I have truly participated in Sunday Mass when I have allowed the liturgy to strengthen my relationships with others during the week. This is what makes the church and reflects the true meaning of today’s miracle and the last supper.
As we return to, renew and revise St Charles we must first recognize the importance of the Eucharist. Let us ask ourselves who we want our community to serve and what relationships will be necessary to do it. We will discover that we cannot do it by ourselves, we need the Lord. Just as the Lord expanded the loaves and the fish to feed a multitude in 1st century Galilee, he will expand us as individuals and as a community to celebrate the Kingdom with him in Brooklyn.
1 Ki 17:8–18
So the LORD said to him:
9 “Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have designated a widow there to provide for you.”
10 He left and went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.”
11 She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.”
12 “As the LORD, your God, lives,” she answered, “I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
13 “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said to her. “Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
14 For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”
15 She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well;
16 The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
17 Some time later the son of the mistress of the house fell sick, and his sickness grew more severe until he stopped breathing.
18 So she said to Elijah, “Why have you done this to me, O man of
2 Ki 4:42–44
42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ ” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
1 Co 11:23–24
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.