This past Sunday, our Gospel passage recounted Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). This story of miraculous provision is so well-known throughout our culture that one need not attend church or identify as Christian to recall at least the loose details — the sun is setting and the crowd gathered around Jesus is hungry, there are only five loaves and two fish, but Jesus multiplies the food so that everyone is fed AND there is some left over.
Familiarity with this story can lead to the granularities of it being lost on us. For instance, no matter how many times I have read this story I seem to always forget that Jesus has withdrawn into the deserted place in response to the news of John the Baptist’s death.
In his desolation, Jesus retreats to a desolate place.
This context impacts the character of the narrative. Jesus has “slipped away” as The Message version says, but the crowd has followed him into this deserted place. Jesus looks upon the crowd with compassion and heals their sick. Then, using Eucharistic language, he blesses the loaves and fish and feeds the people.
He exchanges their hurting for wholeness.
Their hunger for abundance.
In this miracle, we witness and receive the good news that, not only is God present and at work even in our moments of desolation but, the desperate, deserted places are open spaces for a new kind of reign.
This is good news for our interior, personal life, but it also extends and expands out into the world around us.
Wherever you are hurting… wherever you notice hurting, is holy ground.
Your noticing of things not being right and your desire to see them set right is good and just. The Creator is drawing us into Kingdom Life — from greed to generosity, from individualism to mutuality, from stockpiling to sharing resources — and desolate moments and places are fertile ground.
Church, as you notice your needs or the needs around you today, don’t turn away but follow Jesus into those margins. You are not alone — God is there. A new way of life is breaking through today and you are being invited to join in God’s ongoing work.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all and sustain us evermore.