“There is no need for them to go away.” Matthew 14:16
The Lord mourned the cruel martyrdom of His cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus lamented the injustice that crushed the life of the greatest of Israel’s prophets. The man who had awoken the hope of the people–hope for a pure and wholesome life, hope for a future worthy of the chosen children of God. The man who welcomed people to this fresh start in the bracing Jordan water. The man who had the courage to accuse the powerful of hypocrisy and selfishness, inviting them, too, to repentance and an honest new beginning… This man had been brutally and arbitrarily murdered. Because the king did not want to go back on his drunken oaths. Herod liked to watch pretty dancing girls. And he had a mean, hard-hearted wife.
Jesus mourned all this. So He sought solitude, as He often did at such times, to pray to the Father.
We can relate to the Lord’s human emotions. I have five cousins, whom I love, and with whom I share tender childhood memories. If I learned that one of them had died, I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone for a while. I would find myself very sad.
Add to that the hope for the nation that John represented. He had brought the simple, beautiful message of the Old Covenant, the heritage of Israel, to the people of Jesus’ generation. John had brought together in himself the holiness of Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, all rolled into one. Then add the fact that this burning light of truth and hope had been killed for no good reason at all, in a dark dungeon, during a drunken revel, with his head brought into the dining room on a platter, as if it were just another roast pig coming out of the oppressive royal kitchens.
Mourning. That’s my point. The Lord Jesus experienced profound grief and emotional weariness. Of course, He had always known that the day of John’s martyrdom would come; nothing ever caught Christ off-guard. But that did not make the grief any less bitter.
So we relate. Of course He needs a little time. Time to pray. To try and fathom life in the world without his noble cousin. And, of course, to prepare Himself for what this meant for Him. If the groom’s best man at the wedding feast of the Lamb got his head chopped off at the order of a craven lush, what fate awaited the Bridegroom Himself?
We can picture the Lord Jesus praying in solitude about all this. We can relate to His need for peace and quiet.
Then: Over the hillside shambles a bumbing crowd of desperate, clueless wastrels. Not sure exactly how they have managed to find Jesus. Not sure even where they are. And not exactly peaceful and quiet.
Lord, I have a deaf daughter. Lord, my wife can’t stop bleeding. Lord, my old father has a terrible cough. Lord, I don’t know how to pray. Lord, we’re sad about John the Baptist, too. Will you provide for us now? Lord, we’re awful hungry.
Now let’s sympathize with the special, chosen disciples who came on the boath with Jesus to go on retreat. The sudden appearance of five thousand clueless men, accompanied by countless more clueless women and children–not exactly the disciples’ idea of peace and quiet. And: this tedious crowd had bumbled itself into a perilous situation. Night coming, lost in the wilderness, nothing to eat.
But: “There is no need for them to go away.”
Turns out the clueless bumblers knew what they were doing. Their simple trust in Christ gave His Heart exactly the consolation He needed. Turns out that Jesus Christ, even in the depths of His own grief, pain, and confusion over the sin of the world, even Jesus mourning and tired, has the power to turn our hunger and despair into a picnic full of smiles. And He showed this power by looking up to heaven and then breaking bread.
Some of us may style ourselves organized and prudent. Some of us imagine that we can make the Lord’s life easier. We face a difficulty, and we think, “Oh, I will handle this myself. Let me not bother God with this little problem. After all, the world faces so many problems…”
We have got to see how, on that hillside in the wilderness, the brokenhearted Lord made mincemeat out of such nonsense. The wise people were the ones who shamelessly sought Him, like reckless vagabonds, not thinking twice about whether He wanted to see them or not. Christ fed the desperate, clueless people, the people who had made no plans other than to run after Jesus, and keep running till they found Him.
You know, it’s my job to show up for Mass organized, prepared, under-control. It’s my job, and I do it happily. I want everyone to have a sober Mass at which we can all pray.
But don’t let that fool you. The Lord has taught me a lesson, taught us all a lesson. The best way to show up for Mass is: desperate, unwell, clueless, and irrationally insistent with ‘Lord, help me!’ The ones who get fed at the altar are the ones who arrive hungry, pitiful, and confused. And who won’t leave until God restores our hope by giving us His own divine flesh to eat.