Jesus has just learned that John the Baptist has been executed. In his grief, he went to the desert.
The desert isn’t just a site for prayer. It’s the wilderness. It’s not safe. It’s a place we’ve all been. This pandemic is as disorienting as any desert. Grief is a wilderness. Sometimes the desert just grows up around us for no apparent reason at all. Depression is like that. We have all been to the desert.
These crowds followed Jesus into one—willingly. How they must have needed him! Jesus is desperate for a break, and they’re desperate for him.
I wonder if, when he saw them, he had an internal monologue: “God, I can’t, I have nothing to offer them, nothing but my worn out, broken down, grieving self.” I wonder if God said, “Give them what you have. It will be enough.” I wonder if Jesus needed that as much as the hungry crowd.
He heals their sick. Here’s a word of life: Jesus is Lord, even of physical need. This whole story is intensely physical. Jesus doesn’t tell them to forget the troubles of the flesh and look for salvation of their souls. He cares for them, beginning with their bodily needs.
Then the sun is setting, and the disciples are worn out. They’re tired and hungry, and they realize all these people must be hungry, too.
They do what any good logistical planners would do. They say, we’ve got to get these people fed. There’s no food here. We’d better send them home. They go to Jesus with this infinitely reasonable suggestion. And he, can you believe this, turns to them and says, you give them something to eat.
But, but, they sputter. We don’t have nearly enough. We have nothing, nothing except five loaves and a couple of fish. We don’t have enough.
Oh, how often we feel this way.
Sometimes we wake up and think, I simply don’t have enough to face this day. I don’t have enough—enough energy, enough patience, enough kindness. With the disciples we find ourselves saying, so many people need so much, and Jesus, we don’t have enough. We have nothing, nothing except five loaves and a couple of fish.
Jesus says, “Give them to me.” He blesses, he breaks, he gives.
I love imagining the murmuring as Jesus begins to pass the loaves, as each person tears off a hunk, passes it to the next, and they see it’s enough, there’s plenty, gracious plenty.
How did it work? Did Jesus’ love overcome the laws of physics? Did his act of sharing set others free to do the same? What kind of miracle was it?
I am not a person for whom sharing comes easily. I have trouble just sharing French fries, even when the meal in front of me clearly has enough food for three people. I am constantly convinced that there won’t be enough for me, much less anybody else. If I were in a desert with barely enough food for myself, it would absolutely take a miracle to get me to share.
Who knows how it happened. What the gospel tells us is heartbreakingly simple: it seemed they did not have enough, but with Christ, it was more than enough. In the middle of that desert, in the twinkling of an eye, they had a feast.
Friends, here is the truth: with Jesus, our little becomes gracious plenty. He says, give what you have. I will do the rest. And he always does.