I was reading Matthew’s account of Christ feeding the five thousand tonight. I’ve read this story more times than I can count, and honestly don’t generally get a lot out of it. It’s impressive; I guess I’ve always been focused on the miracle. Tonight, for whatever reason, I found myself focusing on the man, Jesus.
I began at verse 13 (chapter 14), but the text “When Jesus heard what had happened…” immediately led me further up. I wanted to hear what had happened too. Starting in verse 6 we read the famous account of Herrod’s party, where John the Baptist is beheaded. Verse 13 continues “… [Jesus] withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” I tried to imagine this in my mind. How close were Jesus and John the Baptist? I don’t really know, but certainly Elizabeth was significant in Mary’s life, they were pregnant together. It seems reasonably likely that these two men had met before Christ’s baptism, and even if they hadn’t they were two leaders of dynamic ministries that were hopelessly intertwined for two years at this point. I can only assume this news was overwhelming to the man, Jesus.
Initially, as I visualized the scene, I could imagine a messenger arriving, distraught, and Jesus saying something like “What is it? What has happened?” The messenger would tell him about the slaying of John, and in despair, Christ would sail off to weep in manly isolation. Then it struck me how selfish all of that would have been, how fundamentally un-Christ-like. Jesus would have comforted a distraught messenger, wiping away his tears, not demanded answers. That he does choose to withdraw, I think tells us just how profoundly this loss affected him. I don’t know where he was going, I can only assume he was going to pray, that seems to me to be the main reason we see Christ seeking solitude. However, he doesn’t get his time alone. Verse 14 tells us when his boat lands, a huge crowd has followed him along the shore.
Personally, I find it very challenging to respond in a positive fashion when someone interrupts my private prayer time. In fact, I’ve taken to announcing to my family, “I am going to go pray now.” Just to make it clear that I’d prefer not to be interrupted. Somehow, despite the obvious hypocrisy, I really struggle with not getting angry at the inevitable interruptions. Tonight, of course, as I was contemplating Christ’s interruption of solitude, I was interrupted several times. I think in that process the Spirit spoke to me and revealed to me that there are any number of interruptions that would be welcome. So why is it so hard for me to welcome the interruptions that actually come?
Jesus, of course, “had compassion on them and healed their sick.” I’m trying to imagine me, trying to mourn the loss of a close relative, and handling a 5,000 man interruption well. I don’t see it happening. But Jesus goes further. He doesn’t politely remind them that he’s in the middle of something, and would it be okay if the crowd returned in a few days? No. He puts aside his own feelings of loss, and he tends to their needs. I’m trying to imagine how one man can handle the attentions of a crowd that large in a healthy, orderly fashion, but somehow I don’t see Christ having them all line up and dealing with them on a first come first serve basis. In my mind, I see him circulating, walking among them, making each person feel as though they are unique and important. In my life, I’ve had the great blessing of meeting a few Christians who could do that.
However, all is still not well. The disciples come to Christ with their own problem. There’s no food to feed all these people, so they want Jesus to send the crowd away. The story is familiar of course, but Jesus response struck me oddly today. He doesn’t say, “No worries, guys, I’m going to do another cool miracle and feed all these people.” He simply says “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
Sometimes when I read things like this, I wonder, was Jesus playing mind games? I mean, what’s that about? Is he trying to test their faith or something? I don’t think that’s it. I think once again, Jesus is recognizing a need. The disciples need a reminder at this point to trust Jesus. And so he steps them through the process of feeding the crowd. It’s interesting to note in the text that the recognition of the multiplication does not occur as Christ is blessing the food or passing it over to the disciples, it occurs later.
Once again, Jesus has put himself last. He doesn’t perform the miracle in front of everyone, he let’s it happen via the disciples as they are handing out the food. He doesn’t tell them what’s going to happen, he gives them a chance to step out in faith, which they do!
Here is a man, with feelings, hurts, a sense of humor, love and compassion for his fellow man, anger, tears, all of the wild emotions and tender feelings with which we humans struggle. Yet somehow, in a moment of terrible loss and sadness, he puts aside all of those feelings, all of his own needs, and addresses the needs of other people. What an incredible man! And I know him! I hope that if you don’t know him, if maybe you just know about him, you’ll take some time to find the man behind the miracles. There is an amazing gift in learning to love Jesus Christ. God Bless!