Summary: Jesus came back from His retreat after John’s death focused on the only power that could defeat evil.
Lectionary 18 A
In the past I have no doubt that most of you have heard the account of the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” and that you know that the story informs us of the miracle of how Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand men and their women and children. And you know that the miracle itself points to the generosity and care of God for all people who are hungry for nourishment both physically and spiritually.
But unfortunately many times, when we recall this important miracle I suspect that most of us forget the context and the very sad event that took place prior to the feeding of the five thousand that is very important, I think to understanding the overall message contained in the Gospel text today.
Scripture records that after Jesus had instructed the crowds with many One –Line Parables the news of the death of John the Baptist was presented to Him and “When Jesus heard about John’s death He withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
When the awful news of the death of John the Baptist reached Jesus He withdrew from the area to grieve and to get away from the crowd so that He could mourn the earthly loss of His coworker.
After all the news of his death must have been heart breaking because John the Baptist had been an important person in Christ’s early ministry. We know this because Jesus Himself described John the Baptist as a man “greater than a prophet;” and the Gospel writers themselves record that John was a man who had been sent by God to call the world to repentance and to prepare the world for the coming of God’s Kingdom.
But now John the Baptist was dead because he had spoken out against Herod who was having an inappropriate relationship with his sister-in-law. So when Jesus heard about John’s death He got into a boat and withdrew to a quiet place to be by Himself. And who would blame Him because those of us who have lost someone suddenly and unexpectedly know how Jesus felt at the moment when He received the ugly news of John’s death.
And we know the emotions and pressures that can build up inside of us when we experience the loss of a loved one. And so like so many of us when we are faced with the loss of a dear one Jesus withdrew for a while so He could overcome the grief that He was experiencing.
But the Gospel text also informs us that Jesus came back from His isolation and that He was moved beyond His grief and His anger and whatever else He was feeling at the moment and resumed the ministry He was called by God to accomplish.
For you see, when Jesus emerged from His isolation (or as our text today describes it “when He went ashore”) Jesus saw a vast crowd and was moved with compassion and He cured the sick among them… and then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and took the five loaves of bread and the two fish that had been presented to Him… and He blessed them and broke them and gave then to the crowd… and they all ate and were satisfied and after the meal there was enough leftover pieces to fill twelve baskets.”
And the “Good News” before us today is that Jesus came back, in one piece, full of compassion, and ready to provide nourishment to the hungry bodies and souls that had gathered to be fed by Him.
Now I realize that it is easy to want to make Jesus into some kind of “Super Hero” that possessed all sorts of power could solve all of our problems and take away al of our pain and cure all of our ills after we have heard the text in front of us today.
But I do not think that this is what the miracle story is all about. After all in every Gospel account it is not until after this miracle that Jesus begins to talk about His death as part of the saving activity of God and it is not until this miracle that Jesus begins to talk about His death as the FOOD that would feed His hungry people.
In all four Gospels, after Jesus had fed the multitude that had gathered before Him, Jesus became less concerned with miracles and intervening powers, and focused more on the cross and the death that awaited Him.
But the disciples could not figure this out because they preferred a Savior that would come and cure their ills and change water into wine and multiply their meager “five loaves and two fish” into earthly abundance.