Matthew 14:13-21 begins:
As soon as Jesus heard the news [of John’s death], he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. [NIV]
Sister Gloria chose this for our reading last night. She asks two of us to repeat the reading, and when she offered me the first repetition, I knew that I was in trouble. Jesus’ grief came over me, and – struggling to control my breath – the first line came out four words at a time.
I, too, have been drawn to the solace of the water. The day that I wrote Darkened Lives Matter, I was overcome with sorrow and left work to walk the pier at Port Hueneme. Fishermen tended their lines above the rhythmic swells, the ocean full of billions of years of assurance that whatever life it surrendered would be replenished.
But that was not solace enough for Jesus, for in the loss of John – his cousin and only vocal supporter – Jesus had a foretaste of his trial. In the march to Jerusalem that follows, I feel a certain grimness in him, as though hope had been stolen.
For over what had John lost his life? A meaningless confrontation with the queen over the minutia of the law. If not John, then who among his followers would grasp the essence of the New Covenant, the covenant of forgiveness, healing and love?
Then comes the next sentence, and I found his grief braced by the consolation of purpose:
But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns.
He was not alone. These many had arrived, not just to reflect on the greatness of the one lost, but to tender John’s authority among them to Jesus. Embraced by their faith, Jesus offers them the healing communion with the father.
As the day comes to a close, the disciples counsel him [NIV Matt. 14:15]:
This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.
I did choke on these words. The suggestion itself seemed painful. Jesus’ response as offered in the King James is revealing:
They need not depart.
This is a foreshadowing of the miracle of the loaves and fishes that follows, but I felt something in the emotion below. It was as if to say: “But…I find comfort in them. We need each other, these people and I.”
When the morsels of food are gathered, Jesus “look[ed] up to heaven” and broke the offering. This final act of beseeching was the culmination of the grief. It was a supplication: “Dear Father, give these gathered a sign that they are not alone.”
And so those that partook did so with angels gathered at their shoulders, awash in the infinite ocean of God’s love.