“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
So says Jesus to his followers. They went to him after a busy day preaching and ministering in a remote place. There was no food there for the people who came, and so the disciples thought it was time to end the day so the people could eat before the day was over. (Matthew 14:13-15)
The disciples bring this pressing concern to Jesus–pressing as there were at least 5000 men there, as well as wives and children. Entire families had taken a day off working and buying and preparing food to come and see him, and they were going to leave hungry if Jesus didn’t send them home now.
Jesus tells his disciples to feed this crowd. Feed them with two fish and five loaves.
This morning Christina, the principle of St John’s, guided some of us through an Ignatian reflection on this passage. She read it aloud to us and invited us to envision ourselves in the story, to perhaps inhabit one of the characters and meet Jesus through their experience.
I thought it would be easiest to find myself in the Disciples, since they feature prominently in the passage. I was with them in their hearing the news of John’s death (Matthew 14:12) and in the boat to the remote place (Matthew 14:13). I sighed with frustration as we stepped out of the boat to meet the crowds. Watching him spend himself again, healing the sick and serving them in compassion I was stung by bitter jealousy. Jealousy for Jesus’ attention. Jealous that Jesus could have such strength and compassion (Matthew 14:14).
So it was with a sigh, and through clenched teeth that I ask Jesus to send the people away. As much for myself as for them, I had enough of ministry, of doing his work. I was tired.
He turns to me, and tells me to feed the people.
All of them. I must give what I do not have to meet the needs of people I have never met.
My head is hot with anger. The impossible has been asked of me, and I have lost my patience. He asks what cannot be done and I will not humiliate myself with failure.
Sitting aside, I watch the others bring their offering, and before my eyes it is multiplied and given to the crowd (Matthew 14:17-19). Yet I leave hungry. And bitter with anger. And with the heavy heart of disappointment.
Suddenly, I find myself left on the shore as the disciples get into the boat again (Matthew 14:22).
And I am alone. I swallow the lump in my throat and turn my collar up against the brisk wind.
Today, I met Jesus in the pages of the Bible. I met him and walked away saddened.