This reflection came from a Bible study Heather recently shared with a colleague, looking at Matthew 14. Joel McFadyen is the Cathedral Secretary and Assistant to the Dean at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.
When Jesus learned of the death of John the Baptist, his friend and cousin, and the man that baptised him, his response was a very human one. I find that when I need to grieve my response is to withdraw and find a space to myself to process my emotions. In Matthew 14:13 we see Jesus try to do just that, taking a boat to a deserted place. He doesn’t get far, though, before the crowds, also learning of John’s death, seek him out on foot. How shocking it must have been for those communities to hear that a man they respected and knew as a prophet had been killed in such a brutal and senseless way.
We see Jesus, realising he would not immediately find a space to grieve, respond to the crowd by ministering to their needs: healing their sick and then feeding over five thousand people. It’s a striking image; one person and his disciples, performing a miracle for a community that has just lost one of their own. I think there is a reminder here that solidarity and shared grief can lead to a powerful healing experience. It reflects scenes we have seen throughout our human experience of shock, anger, and hurt, drawing people together to mourn.
In this context, feeding the five thousand becomes an even more powerful demonstration of the gifts that Jesus draws from God; not just the miracle of feeding so many with a few fish and loaves, but the miracle of giving of himself, forgoing his moment of private grief for a time to heal those around him in body and soul. The meal shared among them may have been a simple one, but it would have carried a weight far greater than any that had come before it for the crowd that day.
Especially in such a tumultuous time. We read that these events have followed Jesus’ rejection in his hometown of Nazareth. In a short time, then, he has been turned out by the people he grew up with, lost a family member in a shocking way, and been followed by huge crowds when seeking a moment alone. Throughout all this he puts the needs of others first, before at last finding the chance to dismiss crowd and disciples, and pray alone with God (Matt 14:23).
The chaos doesn’t stop there though; no sooner had he come down from his prayer than he finds his hapless disciples struggling in a storm, and performs another great miracle of walking out to them across the water. Again, we see not only the miracle he performs but also a great act of ministry, lighting the fires of their faith anew as he pulls Peter from the waves. (Matt 14:31-33)
Here I’m reminded of the importance of finding that quiet time that becomes easily neglected. The image of Jesus taking time to rest and refocus on his connection with God as he is alone, allowing himself to feel the strength and sense of calm he needs to confront the storm to come, really resonates with me.
While many of us have had to put aside our needs to tend to those around us who need our strength, I think Jesus is reminding us here that our spiritual strength flows from God. We too, need to remember to tend to our own spiritual hunger and take moments to recharge, and allow God to work through us again.
I pray that we may remember the strength we have in our community, find solidarity and healing together when we need it, and find those times to let God remind us that we may count on them when we need them.
By Joel McFadyen
Image by Melani Pyke, Jesus Feeds the 5000, see https://www.melpyke.com/blog/102171/jesus-feeding-the-5000.