Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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MATTHEW - Chapter 14

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Matthew 14

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS   3-25 (continued)

3.  Second Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across its Lake  5, 1 -- 15, 20 (continued)

14, 1-12:  Death of the Baptist.  Parallel in Mark 6, 14-29, which gives a more complete account.  Luke has no account of the death of the Baptist, but he mentions his imprisonment (3, 19 f) and parallels the first two Gospels about Herod's opinion that Jesus was John risen from the dead (9, 7-9).  Both Matthew and Mark narrate the imprisonment and death of the Baptist only after they have mentioned Herod's idea that Jesus was the Baptist come back to life.  Such a peculiar arrangement can only be explained as a trait that both Gospels inherited from their common source, the original oral gospel.

1 f.  On the popular opinions concerning the identity of Jesus cf. also 6, 13 f.  On Herod Antipas see The New Testament Background.  Herod's great superstition combined with his evil conscience to produce this strange opinion about Jesus.  He was strengthened in this opinion by the rumors of the people (cf. parallels).    3-5.  The imprisonment of John, cf. also 4, 12; 11, 2.    3.  Because of Herodias may mean either "because of Herod's marriage with Herodias which John condemned," or, "for the sake of Herodias," i.e., in order to please her.  The latter meaning seems the more probable from Mark's account.  Herodias had already been married to Herod Philip, a half-brother of Herod Antipas.  This Philip lived as a private citizen at Rome and is not to be confused with another half-brother, Philip the Tetrarch, who is mentioned in Luke 3, 1.  Herodias herself was a daughter of still another half-brother, Aristobulus, and a sister of Agrippa I.  All these half-brothers were the sons of Herod the Great, each by a different wife.  Antipas had also been married previously to the daughter of Aretas, the Nabatean king, who is mentioned in 2 Cor. 11, 32.  While Antipas was in Rome on political business he met and fell in love with Herodias.  Having divorced their previous partners, they married each other.  This cost Antipas a disastrous war with Aretas.    4.  All these descendants of Herod the Great were at least nominally Jews and bound by the Law of Moses.  But such an incestuous marriage was an abomination to the Jews and a direct violation of the Law (cf. Lev. 18, 16; 20, 21).  The Baptist condemned it openly before Antipas and was consequently imprisoned.    5.  From Mark we learn that the real enemy of the Baptist was not Herod but Herodias.  Herod "protected him" against Herodias who "laid snares for him," i.e., tried to murder him.  The tetrarch therefore considered the imprisonment of John a mere "protective custody."  When Matthew then says that Herod "would have liked to put him to death, but he feared the people," we must understand this in the sense that Herod would have acceded to his wife's desire, even though he himself was favorably inclined to John, if it were not for fear of the people.  Added to this was Herod's own superstitious awe of the Baptist.

6-12.  The Death of the Baptist.  Like the well-meaning but weak Pilate, Herod also succumbed to the demands of less scrupulous persons.    6.  Herod's birthday was either the anniversary of his birth or the anniversary of his accession to the throne.  We do not know in what time of year either of these events would have fallen.  In any case the celebration had a thoroughly pagan character.  Women were usually not present at such banquets, but professional female dancers and acrobats were often presented for the amusement of the guests.  That the daughter of Herodias danced before them was degrading to her dignity.  She evidently did so solely to further her mother's murderous scheme.  Josephus tells us that Herodias had a daughter named Salome by her first marriage.  This is most probably the same daughter who danced before Herod.  Soon afterwards Salome was married to Philip the Tetrarch.    8.  Herodias was not present at the feast (cf. Mark).    9.  Herod was grieved at the request.  Thus Matthew also shows that the tetrarch himself did not desire the death of John.  People often have the false idea that rash oaths bind even though their execution involves the committing of sin (cf. the vow of Jephte, Jdgs. 11, 30 f.35 ff).    10.  He sent and had John beheaded in prison: according to Josephus this was in the fortress of Macherus (see Commentary on 11, 2).  The banquet evidently was held in the same fortress, which was on the border between the domains of Herod and Aretas who were at this time at war with each other.    12.  It was customary to allow the relatives or friends of an executed man to have the body for burial (cf. 27, 58).  Herod would readily have granted this favor, since he was well inclined towards the Baptist, whose disciples had previously had access to their master in  prison (cf. 11, 2 f).

14, 13-21:  Jesus Feeds Five Thousand.  This is the only important event in our Lord's public ministry, before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, that is narrated by all four Evangelists.  Parallels in Mark 6, 31-44; Luke 9, 10b-17; and John 6, 1-15.  This event is of the greatest importance for two reasons.  (a) The extraordinary character of the miracle admits of absolutely no natural explanation and aroused the people to enthusiasm more than any other miracle of Christ.  (b) The special relation of this miracle to the Blessed Eucharist is evident not only in the following discourse in the Fourth Gospel but also in the narrative of the first three Gospels.  A somewhat similar miracle is narrated in 4 Kgs. 4, 42 ff, but this miracle of Eliseus, which as a figure of the miracle worked by Christ, was in much smaller proportion.

13.  When Jesus heard this, i.e., that the Baptist had been beheaded: this phrase merely state the time and is most probably not to be understood as giving one of the reasons why Jesus withdrew by boat to a deserted place apart.  Fear of Herod could hardly have been the motive (cf. Luke 13, 31 f), for at this time Herod was not in Galilee but in southern Perea, and moreover, a day later Jesus is still in Herod's domain.  The real reason for the departure is given in Mark and Luke, that the Apostles might rest after their missionary labors.  A desert place means merely an uninhabited place, not a sandy waste.  John says that this place was on "the other side of the sea of Galilee," i.e., on the eastern shore.  Luke says, "to a desert place which belongs to Bethsaida" (this seems to be his meaning, although there is much confusion in the manuscripts).  But Mark complicates matters by stating that after the miracle Jesus "made his disciples get into the boat and cross the sea ahead of him to Bethsaida" (6, 45).  Outside of the Gospels only one Bethsaida is known: a small village on the northeastern shore of the sea of Galilee, about one mile east of the place where the Jordan enters the lake.  Just north of this Bethsaida Philip the Tetrarch had founded a new city which he named Julias.  According to the Third and the Fourth Gospels this miracle seems to have taken place somewhere near this Bethsaida-Julias.  Mark's statement is explained in various ways.  (a) There is another Bethsaida, on the western shore of the lake a few miles south of Capharnaum.  This would be the Bethsaida of Galilee mentioned in Matt. 11, 21 (Luke 10, 13); Mark 8, 22; John 1, 44; 12, 21.  It is quite possible that there was more than one town by this name on the lake, for the word means "the house of fishing," i.e., fishermen's village.  (b) There was only one Bethsaida, the one in the territory of Philip, which he renamed Julias.  Mark would then mean that the disciples were told to row from the "desert place" of the miracle along the shore of the town itself.  But then they could hardly be said to "cross the sea."  Or the Greek text of Mark is to be translated, "and cross the sea ahead of him (to the land) opposite Bethsaida."  The Greek may admit this meaning but it is rather forced.

14.  If the boat had a head-wind against it the crowds who followed on foot from the towns around Capharnaum (about four miles to Bethsaida-Julias) could easily have arrived there before the boat.    15.  When it was evening: i.e., towards evening, the late afternoon; cf. Luke, "The day began to decline."    17.  These words were spoken by Andrew (cf. John).  He, like Philip, whom Jesus had asked about the matter, was a native of Bethsaida (John 1, 44), and would therefore know more of the circumstances of the place.    19.  The words used to describe our Lord's action is remarkably similar to the words used to describe the institution of the Holy Eucharist (cf. 26, 26 and parallels).  This similarity is not accidental.  Jesus intended this miracle to be a figure of the Eucharist.  He blessed the loaves: i.e., He recited over them a prayer, blessing and thanking God for His gifts.  He did the same at the Last Supper.  The Canon of the Mass, beginning with the Preface, is also essentially a thanksgiving blessing said over the Sacramental Bread and Wine, and the whole service is therefore known as the Eucharist, i.e., "thanksgiving."  He broke the loaves at the Last Supper also.  This symbolic action is such an important part of the Eucharistic Sacrifice that the Mass in the Apostolic Church was generally called "The Breaking of the Bread" (cf. Acts 2, 42.46; 20, 7.11; 1 Cor. 10, 16; perhaps also in Luke 24, 35).  The share which Christ made the Apostles have in the miracle prefigured the share they would have in the administration of His sacraments.  The crowd reclined on the grass which was "green" (Mark) and plentiful (John), i.e., it was the season of the year after the winter rains and before the heat of summer had withered the grass.  According to John the miracle took place shortly before the Passover, i.e., just one year before the institution of the Holy Eucharist.    20.  Note the number of the baskets full of fragments: one for each of the twelve Apostles.    21.  The size of the crowd is naturally given in round numbers.

14, 22-33:  Jesus Walks on the Water.  Parallels in Mark 6, 45-52 and John 6, 16-21; but only Matthew has the episode of Peter's attempt to walk on the water.  Cf. also the earlier miracle of the stilling of the storm on the lake (8, 23-27 and parallels).

22.  Jesus made his disciples get into the boat: literally He "forced" them to do so; the word implies strong reluctance on their part, no doubt because they shared in the desires of the people to make Jesus their king (cf. John 6, 15).  He dismissed the crowd: i.e., He sent them away in orderly fashion.  Perhaps this was His custom at the end of each day of religious instruction, but He had special reasons on this occasion, to calm the popular enthusiasm.    23.  The mountain is the hilly region that surrounds the lake on almost all sides.  The Gospels make special mention of Jesus praying alone at night before important stages of His life (cf. 26, 36; Luke 5, 16; 6, 12; 9, 28).  On this occasion He faced a crisis in His Galilean ministry.  On the morrow He was to reject the requests of the people for their type of Messias and was to preach instead a purely spiritual kingdom in which He would given them Himself as the Bread of Life (cf. John 6, 22-72).    24.  The boat was in the midst of the sea: i.e., it was still some distance from any shore, but not necessarily in the very middle of the lake.  John says, "They had rowed some twenty-five or thirty stadia, " i.e., about two-and-a-half or three miles, when our Lord appeared to them.  From Bethsaida-Julias to Genesar would be about four or five miles.    25.  At this time the period from sunset to sunrise was divided into four "watches"; the fourth watch of the night would be about from three to six A.M.    26.  In the darkness and storm it would have been difficult for the disciples to recognize their Master.  It is entirely understandable why they were overwhelmed with fear.

28-31.  Matthew along has the account of Peter walking on the water, but that should not be considered as weakening the authenticity of the fact.  Mark follows the preaching of St. Peter and the latter evidently suppressed this item about himself intentionally.  It is difficult to say just why Peter should have wanted to walk on the water.  It would hardly have been from a desire to make sure that the apparition was really Jesus.  In any case the incident is perfectly in keeping with the impetuous character of Peter who often said or did things without sufficient reflection (cf. 16, 22; 26, 69 ff; Luke 9, 33; 22, 33; John 18, 10).  When he finally reflected on the stupendous nature of the miracle in which he himself was sharing, he lost faith more in himself than in Jesus, and began to sink.  He did not doubt that Jesus could do the miracle but he doubted that He would do it for him.  His cry for help shows his faith in Christ.    32.  The fact that the wind fell and the storm ceased just at the moment when Jesus got into the boat was also a miracle.    33.  They who were in the boat: cf. the equally strange expression in 8, 27, "the men."  It seems to be solely the Apostles who were meant, for there is not the slightest inkling of a "crew" other than the Apostles.  This is the first time in the Synoptic Gospels that Jesus is called the Son of God by any man.  The exclamation of the Apostles, however, was based on an incipient faith in His divinity.  For the whole context of 16, 16 f seems to make it certain that Peter's profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi was the first full acknowledgment of the divinity of Christ.  Mark has a rather different conclusion to this miracle; see Commentary there.

14, 34-36:  Other Miracles.  Parallel in Mark 6, 53-56.  After the miracle of the first multiplication of the loaves the boat of the Apostles had probably headed for Capharnaum (cf. John 6, 17), but the storm had driven them somewhat off their course (cf. John 6, 21).  This episode is probably to be placed before the discourse on the Eucharist at Capharnaum which was held on the day following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand (cf. John 6, 22).  These miracles of curing the sick at Genesareth could easily have taken place on the morning of the same day as the discourse at Capharnaum while Christ and the Apostles walked back along the shore-road to that town.    34.  Genesar: the more common form is "Genesareth" as in Mark and in most Greek manuscripts of both Gospels.  Both forms occur in the Talmud.  On the shorter form cf. 1 Mach. 11, 67.  It is probably derived from the Hebrew "gan-hassar," "Garden of the Prince."  The longer form arose under the influence of the ancient name of that district, "Kinnereth" (cf. Num. 34, 11; Deut. 3, 17; Jos. 12, 3).  This was the name of the littoral plain that extended for about four miles along the western shore of the lake and about two miles inland from Capharnaum on the north to Magdala on the south.  It also gave its name to the lake (cf. Luke 5, 1).  It is well watered and at the time of Christ was famous for its fertility.    36.  The tassel of his cloak: see Commentary on 9, 20.

Confraternity Bible:

Death of the Baptist  1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are working through him."

3 For Herod had taken John, and bound him, and put him in prison, because of Herodias, his brother's wife.  4 For John had said to him, "It is not lawful for thee to have her."  5 And he would have liked to put him to death, but he feared the people, because they regarded him as a prophet.

6 But on Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.  7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask of him.  8 Then she, at her mother's prompting, said, "Give me here on a dish the head of John the Baptist."  9 And grieved as he was, the king, because of his oath and his guests, commanded it to be given.  10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison.  11 And his head was brought on a dish and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.  12 His disciples came, took away his body, and buried it.  And they went and told Jesus.

Jesus Feeds Five Thousand  13 When Jesus heard this, he withdrew by boat to a desert place apart; but the crowds heard of it and followed him on foot from the towns.  14 And when he landed, he saw a large crowd, and out of compassion for them he cured their sick.  15 Now when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, "This is a desert place and the hour is already late; send the crowds away, so that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food."

16 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you yourselves give them some food."  17 They answered him, "We have here only five loaves and two fishes."  18 He said to them, "Bring them here to me."

19 And when he had ordered the crowd to recline on the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  20 And all ate and were satisfied; and they gathered up what was left over, twelve baskets full of fragments.  21 Now the number of those who had eaten was five thousand men, without counting women and children.

Jesus Walks on the Water  22 And immediately afterwards he made his disciples get into the boat and cross the sea ahead of him, while he dismissed the crowd.  23 And when he had dismissed the crowd, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.  And when it was late, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was in the midst of the sea, buffeted by the waves, for the wind was against them.  25 But in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking upon the sea.  26 And they, seeing  him walking upon the sea, were greatly alarmed, and exclaimed, "It is a ghost!"  And they cried out for fear.  27 Then Jesus  immediately spoke to them, saying, "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid."

28 But Peter answered him and said, "Lord, if it is thou, bid me come to thee over the water."  29 And he said, "Come."  Then Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water to come to Jesus.  30 But seeing the wind was strong, he was afraid; and as he began to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"  31 And Jesus at once stretched forth his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?"  32 And when they got into the boat, the wind fell.  33 But they who were in the boat came and worshipped him, saying, "Truly thou art the Son of God."

Other Miracles  34 And crossing over, they came to the land at Genesar.  35 The inhabitants of that place, as soon as they recognized him, sent into that whole country, and brought to him all the sick, 36 and they entreated him to let them touch but the tassel of his cloak; and all who touched it were saved.