Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Matthew 14:13-21

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently August 2014. 
Summary:  The Greek highlights the key thrust of this passage:  When human beings feel overwhelmed, God's abundance and compassion continues.  Two Greek words help get at this.  First, Jesus has compassion (σπλαγχνιζομαι).  Yes, he is exhausted, but when he sees the crowd, his insides still get tight.  Also, right after the disciples see nothing but a few loaves of bread, Jesus has them sit down on the χορτος, the grass, a reminder that God provides.  In fact, the word for "filled" or "satisfied" means, literally, "grassed."  In the midst of the wilderness, God's abundance still is present, but we need Jesus to show us this!  Finally, this passage ends with a meal that echoes communion, the ultimate reminder of God's compassion in the midst of human limitations.

Key words:
αναχορεω; εν πλοιω; ερημος; κατα ιδιαν;  ("withdrew"; "in a boat"; "by himself"; "wilderness", 14.13)  Matthew puts together a string of words here to describe Jesus' determination to "get away" from it all.  While each of these words may have their own importance, the cumulative effect is powerful!
    κατα ιδιαν:  by himself.  This is the first time Jesus has done anything by himself in the Gospel of Matthew.
    αναχορεω:  withdrew.  This has been the response of Jesus before (news of John's imprisonment; news of Pharisee's plot against him.)  Jesus withdraw does not signify retreat though.  Normally it just sends him away from the powerful and back to the people, whom he heals.

σπλαγχνιζομαι ("compassion", 14.14) Here Jesus has compassion -- which in Greek literally means "intestined."   His gut is turning when he sees the crowds.  It is also worth noting that Jesus compassion does not simply signify feelings, but leads him into action, here, healing.

απολοσον ("release" or even "divorce"; here as an aorist imperative)  The reaction of the disciples to the crowd is the opposite of Jesus.  Where as Jesus is moved internally by their condition, the disciples ask Jesus to move away from the disciples.  Send them away! is what they are demanding.  The disciples lack of concern and lack of faith is also noted by how they respond in vs 17 to Jesus command to feed them.  First, the respond in the present tense, suggesting they are repeating this to Jesus!  Secondly, they respond with "ουκ εχομεν" which means we are not having.  Worth noting is that their response begins with ουκ mean "no!"  They first see and indicate their lack instead of their abundance, who is Jesus Christ.

δοτε ("give"; aorist imperative)  This is the same tense of the verb in the Lord's prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." Perhaps this suggests that the disciples, in their worry about future provision are forgetting their only task is in the present.  I wonder if sometimes we make the task of serving Jesus far bigger than it is; Jesus is not asking them to feed the crowds forever, just this once.

λαβων ευλογησεν κλασας εδωκεν ("took, gave thanks/bless, broke and gave", 19)  Yes, yes, these appear again in Matthew 26:26.  The NET Bible has an interesting note here: 
"And after instructing the crowds to recline for a meal on the grass, after taking the five loaves and the two fish, after looking up to heaven, he gave thanks, and after breaking the loaves he gave them to the disciples." Although most of the participles are undoubtedly attendant circumstance, there are but two indicative verbs--"he gave thanks" and "he gave." The structure of the sentence thus seems to focus on these two actions and has been translated accordingly.  Yes, good Lutherans, giving thanks is not an optional part of communion...

εχορτασθηασαν ("satified/fill", 19)  The word here for "fill" is related to the word for grass -- the crowd sat on the grass "χορτος" and later was "χορτο"-ed.   This is a reminder that God's abundance is always there -- even in the midst of a "ερημος" (wilderness, vs 13; and 15) and when the "ωρα" (hour) has past (vs 15).

Translation:  "Genitive Absolute"
The genitive absolute has been cursed with a tricky name.  It is actually not that bad to translate!  Basically Greek writers will often begin a sentence with a phrase or clause that contains information about people/things besides the subject of the main sentence.  For example:  "After the sun rose, the people got up."  The people are the subject of the main sentence.  The rising of the sun is simply a phrase (adverbial) to give some background info.
What makes this tricky in Greek is that the writers stick the participle and the subject of the clause into the genitive case.  For example, Matthew 14:15:
Οψιας δε γενομενης
Is "evening and became."  Again evening and the participle became are both in the genitive case.  You don't translate them in the genitive case "of the evening" or something like this.  You simply put all these words together to form a little phrase to set up your sentence:  "As evening fell" or something poetic like this. 
Matthew 14:14 also has a participle phrase that sets up the rest of the sentence
και εκελθων   In this case, this is not a genitive absolute; it describes the action of the subject in the main clause (Jesus):  As he went out,...
So again, the genitive absolute is all in the genitive (which can sometimes make it easier to identify) and sets up a little participle phrase that the author uses to talk about something besides the subject.  Matthew 14:32 is the next genitive absolute.  Have fun.

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