November 5, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I’m taking the good news today from Matthew 14:13-21.
When Jesus heard of it, 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.” [Jesus] 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 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.
This is the only miracle that all four gospels record. It must have made an indelible impression on the disciples in particular. It was told and retold and still made a deep impression on the gospel writers 40 years and longer after Jesus’ death. It looked back to the storied past of Israel, the time of the exodus when God provided manna in the desert. And it pointed forward to the institution of the eucharist, although the blessing and breaking of bread was the usual Jewish custom so that in itself would not have been remarkable at the time.
Jesus had just been told of John’s death. He apparently was grieved and wanted time to himself. This is what stands out for me today, perhaps because the death of an old college friend last week and his memorial service on Saturday lingers in my mind. Cancer that was found last May in his jaw a year ago was found to have metastasized to his lungs and bones. When friends and family suffer and approach death we want to help in some way. We feel helpless, impotent. We want them to recover and pray that it will be God’s will that they be healed. But there is nothing to do really except to be present, to provide support, to be strength that they can draw upon. And we they are gone, even though it is expected, we grieve.
Our hearts fill to the bursting with sorrow, tears flow, and we hold close the living. It seems to me that that’s what Jesus was doing here. He didn’t turn away from the crowds when they followed them. He embraced them in his grief. He couldn’t do anything any longer for John, but he could hold close the living. He could reach out to them, sharing his grief through his compassion. He could ease the sorrow in his heart by sharing in the relief, the gratitude, and the joy of those he cured. That’s what we do when we hold those who are grieving, when we whisper words of love and sympathy, when we laugh as we share our memories. We turn to each for healing. That’s what gets us through those tough hours and days as we fully realize that the one we love is no longer bodily with us.
The miracle that Jesus performed in feeding perhaps as many as 20,000 or 30,000 shows us how much our Father loves us when we share our compassion, when we heal each other, when we support and strengthen one another, and when we share our helplessness in the face of life’s sorrows. He provides an abundance of blessings, reminds us of life’s goodness, and embraces us in His love confirming for us that our loved one is with us in spirit now and forever. That’s the miracle for me in this story.