The passage we read is preceded in the Gospel by bad news. John the Baptist has been killed by Herod. The voice of the man of God who came from the desert and preached the truth was now silent. Jesus was hurt by this news.
What was Jesus response? He withdrew to the wilderness. Why, because of his grief. Jesus and John were related. John had the mission of preparing the way for Jesus. John had been the instrument through which Jesus began his public ministry at his baptism in the Jordan River. John had been an obedient servant of God and those who love God are loved by Jesus. John 14:21 states: Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
So Jesus withdraws with his grief. He seeks a place of reflection, of evaluation, of remembrance. He seeks a secluded place. He goes to the wilderness, the desert. But why there? What is so important about the wilderness? The wilderness is where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus during his time of temptation. In the Scripture the wilderness is a place of struggle, both emotional and physical. The wilderness was a place where Jacob wrestled with God and became Israel. The wilderness was the place where Elijah fled and fed and tended to by God. The wilderness is the place the nation of Israel wandered and learned to depend on God. Jesus went to the wilderness to wrestle with his emotions, to be comforted by His Father.
Henry Nouwen, a wise spiritual teacher wrote: we all need deserts, places to which we can go and wrestle with God. Places where we can deal with our grief, our problems, and our needs. Each of us have a need for wilderness from time to time and if we are not near one we need to create one. Sometimes God brings us to the wilderness for our own good. The wilderness, the desert is a place of miracles. It is a place where God creates a burning bush, it is a place where God separates a sea, causes bread (manna) to fall from the sky, and where God can make water flow from a rock. Yes, Jesus comes to the desert, the wilderness, a place of encountering God, of experiencing the miraculous, and more.
So Jesus leaves by boat and seeks a place to be alone. But the people find out where he is going and follow on foot. Imagine the surprise Jesus experienced. He though he was getting away. He though he was going to have time alone. It is part of Murphy’s Law: the amount of interruptions and pressures experienced goes up proportionally with the amount of solitude needed. In other words if you want peace and quiet, the noise will be there. If you want to take a nap the phone will ring or the doorbell will sound. How dare the people follow him? How dare they be so selfish? But this is not how Jesus responds. Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion. Jesus deeply cared about the people. Jesus always has compassion because God has compassion. God deeply cares about us. 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, (all compassion). When we look at the life of Jesus we find a continual pattern of compassion. In the upper room, Jesus last night was spent preparing the disciple for what was to come. Why because he had compassion on them. When he was marched through the streets of Jerusalem carrying a cross his concern was not for himself: Luke 23:28 Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. Then on the cross, with the Roman soldiers gambling for his clothes he cried out, Father forgive them. The compassion displayed by Jesus then and now and forever is more than a miracle, it is the ultimate revelation of love.
In the passage, Jesus reached out to the people. He would not let his own grief overcome his compassion. In Jesus actions in this story we learn that we cannot wear God down with our problems. We cannot exhaust God’s gracious power. I believe God is grieved every day. He is grieved at useless death, grieved b the disregard for the world and life he has given us. Grieved by the suffering, pain, violence, injustice, and callousness. God is grieved but not overcome. God still reaches out to us with compassion. God seeks to help us because God loves us.
Then in verse 15, Jesus is present with another problem. The disciples come to him and say: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” But then Jesus says to his disciples, you feed them. The disciples wonder how, how can they do this? In the Gospel of John it is record that they said: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” But this was the wrong question.
A man went for a walk in the park when he noticed a man sitting on a bench with a beautiful German shepherd sitting beside him. The man walked over to the bench and said hello to the man. The man replied, hello. The man then asked, does your dog bite? No replied the man. Then the man reached down to pet the dog. The dog responded by going after the man’s hand with a mouthful of teeth. The man barely pulled his hand away in time. I though you said your dog doesn’t bite! That’s not my dog.
The disciples did not ask the right question. The question was not how they were going to feed the people, but how was Jesus going to use them to feed the people. When God gives us a command, God provide the means for our success. I am afraid to many Christians have forgotten this. We have become a people of limited vision. We have become a people of limited perspective. We have allowed doubt and the world to get us to focus on what we think we cannot do instead of living in the power of what God can do.
Listen again to what Jesus says: concerning the loaves and the fish he states “Bring them here to me.” If there was one theological principle, one Bible truth, one spiritual commitment I wish every one of us would make the key focus of our lives is this, bring it to Jesus. Bring what you have to the Lord and watch the miracle he will do through you! Bring you sins and he will multiply forgiveness. Bring your despair and he will multiply hope. Bring your willingness and he will multiply ministry. Bring your mind and he will multiply understanding. Bring your heart and he will multiply love. It does not depend on our ability, it depends on our willingness to trust the Lord and respond in faith. God wants to show compassion through us. God wants to do even greater things than this. In John 14:12 Jesus makes a promise: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. This promise is ours to claim if we are but willing.
Note what is stated in v.20. They all were full. All were taken care of. This is what God desires. This is what a relationship with Jesus brings. This is what the Good News offers. The question is will we accept? Will we understand and make the commitment to do what Jesus asks? Will you bring it to Jesus? Why would you not?