When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place, and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me,”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over–
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.
The Gospel according to St. Matthew 14:13-22
We’re familiar with Jesus feeding vast crowds but have you ever wondered about what went on in the in-between of Jesus’s public ministry? Observing how the narrative unfolded is what has caught my attention this week. Let’s consider it together, for I believe we can learn much from the in-between of Jesus’ life here on earth. “When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” The disciples had just informed Jesus that his cousin John, the last prophet of Israel, had been executed for proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand…the long-awaited Messiah had come who was his cousin, Jesus. The God-ness of Jesus not only knew John had just suffered and died before the disciples informed him, but his holy Spirit was also with John in all the moments leading up to and after his death, and Jesus would have even welcomed him into God’s Kingdom! Mind-blowing! The God-ness of Jesus had inspired the prophets of Israel’s history with his holy Spirit-ness to predict that John would be the very one to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth! Does your mind rattle a bit at that? The God-ness of Jesus is beyond our comprehension!
You and I can’t be God, but we can be godly humans, so, let’s consider the human-ness of Jesus as we read that sentence again, “When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” We often read about Jesus withdrawing from the people around him, and the purpose for it always appears to be the same—prayer and rest. There is something about this particular choice that Jesus regularly made that can benefit us. I know I write this often, but it bears repeating, Jesus came to us, as one of us, to show us the way to unity with God. When we choose to live and move and have our being according to Jesus’ way of living, we understand the necessity of solitude to recollect ourselves so that we respond to life in the attitude of prayer, rather than the reaction from our sinful leanings toward anger, fear, and pride.
Consider that Jesus just received nerve-wracking, soul-wrenching information; notice that he didn’t react in an angry rage over the injustice. He didn’t wring his hands in fear over what John’s death meant for his human-ness. Jesus didn’t declare that it was finally his turn to get all the attention. No, anger, fear, and pride did not have a place in Jesus’ heart and mind, for he is perfect…but we are not! I believe that following in Jesus’ footsteps by regularly seeking the LORD by withdrawing from whatever is consuming us, for a moment or for days, allows room in our soul for us to recollect who and what we are in the eyes of our Beloved Father.
Jesus withdrew by himself, yet he wasn’t alone. His God-ness filled that place, making a sanctuary of recollection and prayer. The sorrow Jesus felt was real, and it was tragic. I imagine his Human-ness needed to take in what had just happened and sit with it for a while, to meditate and collect himself. The wisdom in making that choice makes me consider what I would do. Any kind of news can tip us over at a moment’s notice—death, yes, but also the disruptions of life. Jesus shows us that When we consciously withdraw ourselves–physically, mentally, or emotionally–from what seems urgent, we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us about what is most important. Do you know what I find to be true in those times? What I’m tempted to get worked up over always loses its momentum in my emotions if I simply withdraw to a deserted place to have a little talk with Jesus. It can be tough to suspend my reactions about what is happening around me when I ignore the LORD’s desire for me is prayer and meditation with him. Knee-jerk reactions are often rife with overweaning anger, fear, and pride. It sets us up for dissembling into a Me, Myself, and I-ness: the myopic and fractious self-talk. You know what I mean, going round and round in a cul-de-sac of self-promotion or self-pity or self-protection that always leads us back into ourselves, and we become septic in our delusion that somehow it’s all up to us to figure life out.
What’s the difference between praying to the trilogy of ourselves and the Holy Trinity? When Jesus withdrew to pray he was with his holy Self! We can assume his human-ness meditated on his God-ness. Was his prayer the action of reminding himself of who he was and why he had subjected himself to the emotions and feelings of human-ness? Was his prayer the action of reminding himself of what he was about for he knew his purpose? We don’t know! But Jesus returned from that deserted prayer and fed the hungry crowd because that’s what he was about.
Jesus, the biggest obstacle for us to withdraw from our SELF is sinful nature! You know us better than we know ourselves. But it’s difficult sometimes to entrust ourselves to you in prayer because we forget that you shared in our emotions but you did not react in sin, you responded out of your holiness. Oh, LORD, grant us wisdom to see our overweaning reactions are caused by sin at work in us.
Through your incarnation, you became one with us. Through your suffering and death for us, you showed that suffering and surrendering is the path to unity with you. Will you reach your hand out to us again, and pull us away from our sinful delusions? May we seek solitude in prayer with You so that you may reveal to us any anger, fear, or pride that keeps us from uniting with you through prayer.
Your Passion for us opened the gates to Eternal life before us. Remind us that the courts of heaven are surrounded by prayer. And it is only in the intimacy of prayer with you that we may enter into them here and now. Remind us that there are crowds in our corner of your world, waiting to observe in us an inkling of this abundant life. Would you show us today who is hungry for you, the Bread of Life?
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.