READ: Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.
16 But Jesus said, They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
17 They said to him, We have only five loaves here and two fish.
18 And he said, Bring them here to me.
19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.
20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Whenever I read passages like this one I find myself fighting not to cast the scene in some sort of Salvador Dali print. What I mean by this is the sort of representational picture that Dali's Last Supper is. We've all seen the picture: Jesus stands at table not in any way in contact with the elements of communion. He points heavenward with his right hand. His left hand is against his chest, indicating he is in the middle of saying something about himself. The eleven disciples (Judas has already left) have their heads bowed in prayer. Above is the shadow of Jesus' naked upper torso, his hands spread wide presumably signifying some sort of universal salvation of the come-all-ye variety. The effect of the whole is entirely etherial and other-worldly. This is not just an upper room in First Century Jerusalem, this is a room in heaven itself. (Do take the time to call the print up on Google Images, it is worth meditating on it)
In my mind's eye, my Dali-esque version of the feeding of the 5,000 is a scene on a meadowed hill with Jesus sitting on some sort of furniture indicating his importance in the picture. The disciples each hold half-a-loaf and a piece of trout (pan seared, cajun, of course) and stand in a perfect semi-circle just below Jesus on the hillside. While there definitely are crowds there, they haven't made it into the picture because, as I said, this is representational art. Floating in the sky overhead there is either a shepherd's crook or perhaps a cross of some sort to complete the again other-worldly scene.
All of this museum-going guards me from having to come in contact with the realities of the situation:
This was a desolate place. That word "desolate" is really interesting. Here's a survey of what the word "eramos" (desolate) means in the Bible:
1) solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited
a) used of places
1) a desert, wilderness
2) deserted places, lonely regions
3) an uncultivated region fit for pasturage
b) used of persons
1) deserted by others
2) deprived of the aid and protection of others, especially of friends and kindred
a) of a flock deserted by the shepherd
b) of a woman neglected by her husband, from whom the husband withholds
In 2006 I traveled with my son Tim and two of his friends to Rachel, NV, which is about 120 miles north of Las Vegas. We went there because that is as close as you can get to a military installation at Groom Lake, a dry lake-bed, presumably where Area 51 is located. It was all great fun inspired by Tim's boyhood interest in all things Alien. About 60 miles above Las Vegas there is a gas station/convenience mart. Just past the station is a sign that warns you not to go any further without a full tank of gas, water, and provisions. From that point all the way to Rachel (which does NOT have a gas station) we did not pass a single car, house, electric wire, or anything else that might indicate civilization. "Downtown Rachel" is populated by 36 people who all live in portable trailers. THIS is a desolate place, and the few people we met there were definitely desolated people. I'm sure there are more remote places on the planet, but I doubt I'll ever see them.
The thing to note about Rachel, NV is that it isn't pretty. It isn't clean. It isn't etherial. It isn't heavenly. This is an all-too-real place that is kind of scary for how far out from civilization it is. Jesus sat down in the middle of just such a desolate place and ministered to 5,000 desolated people who would have gladly gone to sleep hungry and cold that night just for the chance to see Jesus. They had literally dropped everything and gone running out into a place of relative danger just to hear the rabbi speak and to be near enough to perhaps be healed by him.
When the disciples brought the fish and bread to Jesus it was ALL they had. Remember that these men were crossing the top of the Sea of Galilee in a boat and hadn't intended to stop for a camping expedition. That's why they didn't have the proper amount of food with them. The trip across the top of the lake shouldn't have been more than a few hours and so they had packed nothing.
I don't know what YOU see when you look at this story, but I see very real human need being provided for by a very natural source supernaturally supplied by a very real human being who was also very really God.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.