Our passage today comes on the heels of death, the murder of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. We know about death; we have been living with death and profound loss for months. This past week COVID19 deaths have topped 155,000. A number that represents children left bereft of parents. Parents who have lost their children. Families decimated of grandparents, uncles & aunts, cousins, the loss of friends. To make the matters worse people have not been able to grieve properly. No bedside visits to say goodbye to the dying. Limited or no wakes and funerals. After almost 8 months of this pandemic, people are emotionally exhausted, hungry for normalcy, hungry to hug and touch and gather together again. Hungry to go back to work, to go back to school, to travel to get back to a semblance of normal.
Jesus knew death, now it again had hit home, with the beheading of his beloved cousin John. John was prophet to Jesus’ ministry. In Mark 1:7-8 John described Jesus as “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me I am not worthy to stoop own and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus in turn said of John in Luke 11:11 “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” And now John is gone.
Jesus understandably seeks to go away and spend some time in solitude to grieve his beloved cousin. He got into a boat, with only his 12 disciples to get away. The text tells us Jesus wants to go deserted place. The last time he went to a deserted place was the time immediately after his cousin John baptized him and Jesus was sent into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he prayed for 30 days. But when Jesus has arrived at the place, he is met by crowds of people who have beat Jesus there on feet. They have traveled over land, desolate land, of prickly plants and inhospitable shrubbery and sharp stones. They are hungry for Jesus; to hear him speak, to feel his touch to be in his presence. They are waiting patiently, eagerly for him. Would we be so eager to be with Jesus, so hungry for his touch, so hungry for his word, that we would willingly travel to the inhospitable places within ourselves, those lonely places, those uncomfortable places in life, to endure the stony path, in order to be with him.
Jesus, who longs for some quiet time is not angry or annoyed, like we might be. When he sees before him a massive crowd, 5000 men. They didn’t’ count women and children in those days so there were perhaps 5000 women or more, at least 5000 children, probably more, 15,000 people and counting. Despite his own weariness of spirit, Jesus sees the crowds. The word here is not just to see, it goes deeper. Jesus perceives the crowd, he discerns the crowds and their needs, he intuits what drove them to walk miles to this desolate place. This touches Jesus deeply. It stirs him. Jesus has compassion for them. His inner being is stirred to the depths of his being. He heart is overcome with love. God Incarnate, who changes his plans to reach out to others. It’s such a powerful moment in Jesus ministry that it is the only miracle story that is contained in each gospel story.
So, Jesus begins to heals the sick who have traveled so far, Jesus restores the weak to strength and the broken to wholeness. We can imagine that Jesus teaches the people all afternoon. Imagine sitting at the feet of Jesus and having the blessing of hearing him speak. Listening to Jesus’ voice, taking in his words, feeling your burdens lift, your soul soothed. The time goes by and the crowd, 15,000, even the children are fed by his words, comforted by his touch.
The hours go by and evening approaches. The disciples see the darkness looming. They are not perceiving and discerning the way Jesus does, so their hearts see the darkness, see the crowds and they are afraid. Meanwhile there is not a word from the crowd. No complaining. No testing. No demands. They are just happy to be with Jesus. But the disciples are agitated, they do not trust, all they can see are the prickly plants, the inhospitable nature of the surroundings and an enormous crowds and afraid. they go to the Lord and say, it’s an isolated place, so send them away, so they can get something to eat. They think they are doing Jesus a favor by bringing the problem to Jesus’ attention. Surely Jesus just got caught up in ministry that he’s lost track of time. It’s going to be dark soon Jesus. Dismiss the crowd to go find food for themselves. You’ve done enough ministry for the day. Time to call it quits. Jesus sees it differently. And Jesus’ first recorded words on this passage are these; They do not need to go away, you give them something to eat. Jesus shifts this impossible problem back to the disciples.
Jesus doesn’t go away and Jesus doesn’t send us away. He has compassion on us. Jesus shows us how to live in the midst of difficulty, in the places where we are lonely and broken. We are surrounded by so many in need, the sick, the sorrowing, the unemployed, those who are spiritually empty and needy. We want to close our eyes, we want to send it all away. And Jesus does not let us off the hook, even when we have problems of our own, even when our own hearts are heavy with worry or grief. The only way to find that healing for ourselves the text tells us, is to follow Jesus. To follow the God who sees, who perceives, who has compassion, who heals, and shows us in turn to focus on the needs of others -- not by our own strength, but through the grace of God working through us.
Jesus asks them to bring what food they have. The disciples have 5 loaves and 2 fish, little fish like sardines. Perhaps this represented their own meager dinner. Not enough to feed themselves let along produce even crumbs for the multitudes. Jesus directs the crowd to sit, or recline, to make themselves comfortable. Then Jesus takes their meal, blesses it, and instructs the disciples to distribute the bread and fish. In Jesus’ hands, through God’s blessing, there is enough for all 15,000, with 12 full baskets, one of each of the disciples left over. The word used here is abundance, the same word Jesus uses when he declares, “I have come that they might have life, life abundantly.”(John 10:10b).
God understands our time of grief. Our desire to go away and be alone. But there is no where we can go. Everywhere we turn, is closed still to the pandemic. And during the pandemic, in the midst of the problems and worries, we are surrounded by need. We are surrounded by riots and protests. We see the people’s want, we see lines of hungry. Will the children go back to school in September? Will there be a second wave of coronavirus? Will those laid off due to the virus ever have work again, how will they pay their bills? Will our church survive this crisis? Maybe we’re crying out for ourselves. It’s too much for us Jesus. We are overwhelmed. Dark is falling upon us. Send the problem away.
But Jesus takes those meager offerings, our meager offerings, looks up to heaven, blesses the bread, the little sardine fish, he gave them to the disciples the disciples passed them among the crowds, and there was enough. For all the multitudes.
The scriptures teach us, over and over, this is the way of Jesus. The scriptures tell us that he was a man of sorrows, afflicted by grief. Jesus wept. Jesus needed time to get away. But even in heartbreak, Jesus didn’t send anyone away. He doesn’t send us away. Like God took care and fed the people of Israel in the wilderness with manna, so Jesus feeds those who come to him, in those deserted places. And Paul reminds us: the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) We too, in our current worry and sadness, with our meager resources, are blessed and are transformed into the blessing that the world needs.
So, we look at our world that is so overwhelming with need and hurt, and we are in the middle of the desolate time, and we feel darkness descending, and we just want it all to go away. But thank goodness we have a compassionate Lord and Savior who sees. He sees us. He sees our problems. All the problems around us. He sees our limited resources and the need all around us. But the problems we would send away is exactly where Jesus would have us minister. They don’t need to go away Jesus Says.
Let us turn to heaven. As we lift up the bread and cup in Holy Communion today, let us lift up our lives and resources and place them God’s hands. As we ask for God’s blessing, know it is God desire for us to become blessing for the all the needs around us. This is the holy mystery that is entirely God’s doing. God’s compassion and blessing will work through what we have, because we have a God who sees not problems but our potential, and God’s promise is there will be enough. We are enough.
Praise be the Lord. Amen