The story that we hear today from chapter fifteen of the Gospel of St. Matthew takes place almost immediately after a similar story in chapter fourteen. The two stories are distinguished by the size of the crowd – 5,000 in the first story and 4,000 in this story – as well as by the number of loaves of bread – five loaves to feed 5,000 and seven loaves to feed 4,000. At first it might seem that the story is simply repeated, but the differences in the narrative emphasize that it is two different stories.
The difference seems to be in the make-up of the crowd. Today’s story takes place just after Jesus is convinced to heal the daughter of the Canaanite woman. Jesus then heals the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They would have been excluded from most Jewish gatherings because of their physical limitations and deformities. So Matthew includes this story to emphasize that Jesus came for all people, not just those who would have been accepted in observant Jewish gatherings.
This story is combined with Isaiah’s prophecy in which the prophet makes it very clear that in the Messianic banquet the Lord will provide for all peoples. He emphasizes this point by saying further he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations.
We all have a tendency to think in terms of our particular group. We all tend to think of ourselves as God’s chosen people. In particular, Americans like to think of themselves as the “city on a hill” that gives light to all the world. The Scriptures are very clear that all people are God’s people.
There is a story of the Israelite people emerging from the Red Sea to find God sitting on a rock weeping. They are confused by this sight. They draw near to God and say, “Why are you weeping? Through your servant Moses you have saved your people. We have escaped from Pharaoh and his army of chariots and charioteers. This is not a time for weeping. It is a time for rejoicing.”
God looks up at the Israelites and responds, “Don’t you realize that the Egyptians were also my children? I am weeping for my children whose lives have been lost this day.”
No one can claim that God belongs to them. We can only claim that we belong to God, that God is our shepherd.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator