Summary: The feeding of the multitudes reminds us that Jesus wants us to help do God's work in the world. As Christ's disciples, we are to respond to the needs around us not with excuses, but with compassionate hearts, offering all we have to Jesus so that he migh
We've all heard it numerous times in our lives, or perhaps said it ourselves on occasion, "Excuses, excuses!" It could be our workout day, and we are sick and just don't feel like it. "Excuses, excuses," says the personal trainer. Or maybe we know we shouldn't have dessert in the restaurant, but we just can't pass up the opportunity to try the new house specialty. "Excuses, excuses." We could be trying to get our kids to clean up their room, and they suddenly decide they need to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, and check their email. "Excuses, excuses," we say with exasperation. The list could go on and on. Quite simply, if there is something we don't want to do, we can usually come up with some at least semi-valid excuse not to do it. And usually we do.
Then again, sometimes instead of giving an excuse not to do something, we just "suck it up" and do it anyway. The scripture passage we heard just a few moments ago is full of opportunities to make excuses; and sometimes excuses are offered, sometimes not. Matthew's telling of the "Feeding of the 5,000" immediately follows news of John the Baptist's beheading. Upon learning of his violent death, Jesus and his disciples "withdrew to a solitary place." They were hoping to get away for a while, hoping for some peace and quiet to sort through their pain and sorrow. This was Jesus' cousin after all, not to mention a fellow prophet and friend. Understandably, Jesus needed time and space to mourn the loss, to pray to God, and to deal with his feelings of grief. But it was not to be so, Matthew tells us. No sooner had Jesus and the disciples shoved off in their boat, than the crowds began appearing on the shoreline.
It would have been more than easy, and definitely understandable, for Jesus to make excuses. "Just keep rowing guys, I need some quiet. My friend has been killed. I need to take a break from work while we get all this sorted out." He could have even looked over to the crowds and said, "I'm sorry friends, not today. My cousin and colleague has been killed, and I need some time with friends and family." And I believe those people would have been understanding. "You're right Jesus. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. We will be praying for you." Then they would have turned and gone on their way, patiently awaiting the time when Jesus was prepared to return to the work of ministry again.
But Jesus didn't make excuses. Even though he was certainly feeling the grief of loss, he didn't keep rowing away from shore, seeking quiet and solitude. Instead, he turned, saw the crowds and, Matthew tell us, "had compassion on them." Then, even though he was hurting himself, even though he was grieving and wanting some peace and quiet, Jesus returned to the shore and healed the sick. But the story doesn't end there. We get the impression that Jesus worked all day, through the afternoon, and into the evening healing the people. And before he knew it, it was meal time. The disciples came to him with an excuse of sorts, an opportunity for a break and some peace and quiet finally. "Jesus," they said. "It's evening. You have to stop now. The people need to get back home so they can eat."