A Reflection on Matthew 14:13-21 (scripture from 8.3.14) Jesus is dismissed and disrespected by the people who know him best – his hometown friends. How did Jesus suddenly get so wise? Why is he suddenly pretending to have power? Is it the new suit? The new car? Is there something going on here that we don’t know about? But we know this guy – he is one of us – must be smoke and mirrors. Jesus has “gotten above his ‘raising” and he thinks he is going to “school us?” I don’t think so. He has nothing.
And on the heels of that stinging dismissal, Jesus finds out that the one who was born to prepare the way for his own ministry has been beheaded because he called out Herod about a moral failing involving sex with another woman. The paper reports of John’s murder were very gruesome, and were – at the least – a deterrent to anyone who wanted to call Herod an adulterer (imagine that – seems like a parochial and judgmental claim anyway and certainly not worth getting one’s head chopped off about. I say, if Herod wants to marry his brother’s wife let God judge. Who am I to say anything? Doesn’t scripture say not to judge. I guess John got what was coming to him.)
So dismissed, disrespected, dismayed and discouraged, Jesus goes out in a boat to a deserted place “by himself.” Wish I knew what he did there. Pray? Cry? Grieve? Ask God what was going on? Admit that he was afraid that his own head would be delivered on a platter?
But when he comes back to the shoreline, there THEY are – a great crowd. Before his feet hit dry land he could feel their need, hear the giant sucking sound of all that they wanted and needed. No one asked how he was. Everyone had their list of what they needed. The Disciples, relieved that he had come back, were trying to create order, get the sickest to the front of the line, and prioritize what needed Jesus’ attention. The need in the eyes of the Disciples was perhaps the most desperate. The crowd had been looking to them for answers since Jesus had disappeared and the Disciples wanted to be what the crowd needed them to be – access to power and healing and truth. And the Disciples – who had a lot in the game by this point - needed to keep from feeling like they had committed themselves to nothing – they needed Jesus to do something big - to prove that they were spending their time and energy on important God stuff. Need hung in the air like fog.
And Jesus “had compassion for them and cured their sick.”
How did he do that? Did he want to turn the boat around and try to find an unpopulated beach? Did he want to scream and cry and shout obscenities so they would leave him alone? Wasn’t his pain enough? Did he want someone to ask how he was? To say that they were sorry about John and to tell him how stupid and thick the people in Nazareth were? How did he have anything left to give? But somehow he did. That is the biggest God thing I know – not to run screaming from the insatiable need that waited for him on the shore. Instead he gave, and taught, and listened and healed and met the need until the fog lifted for the moment.
Until the people began to get hungry . . . . .
The Disciples who were behind the scenes, arranging chairs and adjusting the air conditioning noticed it first. Hungry people are mean, and people were getting restless. The crowd in back couldn’t hear, and over on the side others were complaining about people around them who were smoking and talking. Things were beginning to fog up again. So, one of the disciples came to Jesus to whisper: “It is getting late, they are getting restless. Don’t you think it is time to send them home to get something to eat?” “Don’t you think it is time to call it a day?” It wasn’t really a question. It was the best idea they had had all day – it was time for these people to go home so the Disciples could rest.
The Disciples did not see it coming – what Jesus said. Feed them yourself. Don’t make them walk home in the gathering gloom and dark. You feed them. Suddenly, the disciples felt the fog of need descend and they cast about in their vacant – and hungry – interiors for some meaning to Jesus’ direction: You feed them.
We have nothing – was the real answer – the authentic truth – the naked reality. The mention of five loaves and two fish was really an afterthought – added only to give emphasis to the real truth of “we have nothing”. We have nothing, but . . . . . .
And just as certainly as the Disciples were focused on the “nothing”, Jesus was focused on the “but . . . . “ The rest you know – the nothing was divided so that there were 12 baskets of leftovers. The crowd was so big that they only counted the ones who mattered – the men – with a crowd that big who needs an exact count? 5,000 men plus some others and everyone had what they needed – enough with left overs. Everyone had enough. They needed nothing.
Lord – when the fog of need descends, and I feel like rowing backwards, divide my nothing so that the needs of those who seek you will be met and more. Help me to walk forward into the fog of need, not backward into a deserted place. Help me to respond with compassion and healing when all I can think about is how discouraged and sad I am. I have nothing. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Ellen Skidmore
Ellen is the Senior Pastor at Forest Lake and provides leadership for the Church through her preaching, pastoral care and administration of the church’s staff. Ellen is the primary staff liaison with the Personnel Ministry, Worship Ministry and Evangelism and Communication Ministry. Ellen’s goal is to keep her eye on where God is leading Forest Lake and to encourage and to help the congregation move in that direction – painting the vision for what it looks like to put our head, heart and hands in the service of Jesus Christ. She also seeks to connect with visitors and new members and create a welcoming environment for those who seek to grow in their spiritual journey at FLPC.