Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3, Galatians 3:1-14, Matthew 14:13-21
When we study the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, we usually focus on the most obvious part – namely, fives loaves and two fishes feeding five thousand men plus women and children. It’s an important and miraculous story, but because the Bible has been broken into chapters, verses, and headings (absent from its original format) we often read it divorced from other context. The first sentence in this section – “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” – is more meaningful when we remember “this” was the beheading of John the Baptist. More than a prophet announcing the Messiah, John was (depending on which scriptures you read) Jesus’s cousin, teacher, and friend. He prepared the way of the Lord. John’s death was a signpost on the road to Calvary.
How eager would we be to learn thousands of people had followed us to the place where we sought to mourn in private? Many of us would have turned them away. Jesus though “had compassion for them and cured their sick.” After he was done – probably many hours later, as it was evening – he didn’t want to turn them away.
John’s parents were probably dead already. Jesus was possibly his only family, and many people who sought Jesus on that day were undoubtedly John’s disciples. According to legend, John did not get a traditional burial, so this gathering may have been as close as it got. What happens after most funerals? Friends of the grieving family bring food and offer support. Note that Jesus did not distribute the food himself – he instructed the disciples to do it, as they would have typically done if visiting Jesus in his home after a loss. John may not have had a funeral, but the meal afterward was thousands strong and presided over by Christ. In the face of death, Jesus responded with healing, nourishment, and generosity and persuaded the crowd to do likewise. Whether we grieve or support someone who does, Christ offers hope and new life in ways we can’t imagine.
Comfort: We never grieve alone.
Challenge: At times we may be called to be compassionate when we really want to be left alone. At those times, can we remember that service is sometimes a path to healing?
Prayer: God of compassion, be with me when I grieve, and help me support those who suffer loss. Amen.
Discussion: What (if any) parts of funeral rituals do you find most comforting?
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