King Herod had thrown a huge party for himself and his guests. As part of it, he “invited” his step-daughter to dance for them. She danced so well that Herod made a rash – and very public – oath: “I’ll give you anything you ask for, up to half of my kingdom!” Salome went and talked to her mom; for what should she ask? “I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
That’s how one of the heroes of Christianity died. Humanly speaking, he died as the result of a rash oath made at a raucous party.
So, when Jesus heard what had happened to his dear relative, his forerunner, his response is natural: he wants to get away for a bit. So Jesus traveled across the Sea of Galilee, to an area which wasn’t heavily inhabited, apparently desiring some down-time.
But the crowds find out! They travel around the lake and they find Jesus. So, put yourself into Jesus’ shoes. He’s just learned that his loved one had died, and in a horrible manner. He seems to want some down-time, some space. If you and I were Jesus and saw the crowd, how would you and I have reacted? Can you imagine us saying, “Come on, guys! Can you please give me a bit of a break?” Or maybe we would have pasted a smile on our face and said through gritted teeth, “Great to see you,” while inwardly we were entirely not happy to see them!
But Jesus? He was filled with compassion for them. While he was the one who could have used some compassion and encouragement, his heart was filled with compassion … for them! And so He put His own needs aside, and spent the day healing their sick, as well as teaching them.
While that’s happening, the disciples recognize a problem – the people have no food – so they ask Jesus to send the crowds away, so the crowds can go to buy food for themselves.
But Jesus has a different plan: “You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16) Now remember, the disciples have spent the day listening to Jesus teach, and watching Him do miracles. God stands in front of them! A wise response would have been for the disciples to say, “Lord, we’re helpless, but we know that you can do anything. Please help.” In other words, the proper response of faith would have been to simply look to Jesus.
Instead, the disciples spend some time trying to figure out how to handle this on their own!
So, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes; he has no time to mourn, for the crowds are upon him. Those who should be “getting it” – Jesus’ disciples – aren’t “getting it.” If you were Jesus might you be getting a bit frustrated? I’d guess I would have been!
But there’s more! The disciples end up bringing five loaves and two fish to Jesus. John’s Gospel tells us that they were barley-loaves. Jewish literature tells us that barley loaves were the food for the poorest of the poor, or even for animals. Edersheim quotes Gamaliel, saying that if a woman were caught in adultery, she was to bring an offering of barley: “as her deed is that of animals, so her offering is also of the food of animals.” (Quoted in Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.) The fish seem to be similar, a part of a meal for the very poor.
To summarize, Jesus is in mourning, yet He can’t get a day to himself. He’s surrounded by disciples who seem to just not “get it.” And as this day draws to a close, he – the almighty ruler of the universe! – is going to have a meal which is the most basic of the basics.
And he responds … how? “… and looking up to heaven he gave thanks…” (Matt. 14:19) Jesus responds … with thanks! He looks to His heavenly Father and says, “Thank you.” Can you imagine? Jesus is in emotional pain, his followers are struggling to “get it,” he’s going to be “treated” to the most basic of meals, and He responds by saying “Thank you, Father!”
The Son of God did all this for you, for me! He endured the pain of loss, the frustration of working alongside dull humans, paltry meals, all as part of His work of saving you and saving me! And can you imagine? In the midst of this day of days, He lifts his head and says, “Thank you.”
And I suppose it’s reasonable for us to hang our heads in shame. After all, we look at ourselves, and most of us have shelves loaded with food, clothes, etc. We have playstations and x-boxes and smart phones and ipods and computers. We have cars and trucks and minivans. We have so much!
Do we regularly look upward and say, “Thank you, Father!”?
Even more. When our day is going poorly, when we’d like to have time for ourselves but can’t, when those around us aren’t “getting it,” when the cupboard is bare, do we lift our eyes upward and say, “Thank you, Father!”? Or are we more likely to fret, to worry, to complain? I’m guilty! You too? How right God would be to condemn us, for our self-focus, our failure to “get it,” our slowness to give thanks.
And yet Jesus claims us. He counts us as his. Yes, the Son of God was willing to set aside His own interests (even as a human!), was willing to put up with the “privilege” of working with us humans, was willing to eat the lowest of fare. He did all that so that we could be saved, so that we could end up eating at the heavenly banquet feast! What amazing love!
As if that weren’t enough, God continues to bless us day-by-day, providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, etc. All that we need, we have. And God promises to walk us through this life, to guide and direct us until that day when He will take us to be with Him in heaven.
All of which leads us to lift our eyes to the skies and say, “Thank you, Father! Thank you for blessing me with what I need for life on this earth. Thank you for providing for me even when I’m ungrateful, unappreciative. And most of all, thank you for providing for me what I really need; life which is eternal. Thank you, Father!”