He Retreated to a Deserted Place
This specific gospel may demonstrate the humanity of Jesus. Jesus begins to learn of the death of His cousin, John. In a drunken and lustful act, Herod has John the Baptist beheaded. This news would have traveled from word of mouth, preserving the sordid details. The shock of listening to such a barbaric act remains incredible today. How can someone treat human life with so little value? How can people treat each other so badly? I wonder if those were not Jesus’ thoughts at the time. Jesus would have grown up with John. Each year, as their families made pilgrimages to the temple, they would surely have gathered as a family gathering; to celebrate, to worship, and to support each other. John’s death has an impact on Jesus. He wants to go to a deserted place to mourn the loss of His relative.
As Jesus tries to cross the lake to go to the other side, the crowds can easily see where His boat is headed, and they rush to the other side on foot. They’re there when He gets here. With a heavy heart, He starts teaching again. Filling their needs to hear the word of God. And as the night approaches, His disciples approach Him. “Send them away. We don’t have food for everyone.”
This lays the groundwork for the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. We know the abundance of the miracle. Twelve baskets remain. And a lot can be said about this miracle. But today, I would like to focus on the action of the disciples.
Jesus has been teaching the disciples for some time. Their hearts are starting to expand. They’re beginning to accept the faith. When they come to Jesus, the opening of their hearts to the needs of others is beginning to flourish. Often, people don’t see the needs of others. Sometimes we are not aware of people who hurt or suffer, and we ignore those whose needs are great. We don’t want to hurt anyone on purpose, but if we’re not sensitive to other people, we hurt them by our insensitive actions.
But how do we help these people in need? Our culture has established convenient ways to allow us to do just that. There are programs where we can donate directly from our paycheck. There are telethons. There are Go Fund Me pages on Facebook. There are many organizations that request donations from you. And this is good. But it deprives us of something important. Jesus brings this out in the Gospel today. When the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the multitudes so they can get something to eat, He instructs His disciples to feed them. They immediately realize that there is no payroll deduction plan that feeds so many people. What are they going to do?
The disciples wanted to ward off the problem of feeding people. They didn’t want to address this problem. They were still thinking of themselves, not the needs of others, as Jesus does. If the people were sent off, then the disciples would only have to focus on themselves and simply find food for themselves. Jesus challenges us to think differently. Jesus knows the miracle he will do. But to make the disciples part of the miracle, he has the disciples serving the people. For me, this is a miracle in itself. When you go to a restaurant, there are several people serving you. A waiter or waitress, a bartender, several cooks, people washing dishes, and people you pay at the end of the meal. Even in large restaurants, the number of people they can serve is about 200 or 300. How long does it take to be served? An hour? How many people served you? And in this story, was it the disciples who distributed food to more than five thousand people? That’s a miracle, too. In modern times, it would have taken at least twenty-five hours for the disciples to serve so many people. And Jesus was the only one who cooked. The whole miracle is based on the abundance of Jesus. It’s a little thing you do if you only donate anonymously. It’s an abundance if you work with those in need in person, face to face. It is a miracle to serve the poor, heal the sick, and bring food to them with your hands. We are brothers and sisters who need loving hands. Open your hearts to the miracles that Jesus desires to work through you.
May the Lord bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen