Jesus withdraws — Matthew 14:13–18

The withdrawal of the King — part 4

40 blogs of Lent — day 6

At the end of this passage Jesus withdraws, devastated at being rejected by the people of his own town, closely followed by the loss of a close relative and one of the few people who supported him.

A depressed looking man with his head on his hand.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”

Matthew 14:13-17 ESV UK

Bring them to me

Herod was after Jesus. Luke tells us that some Pharisees were in on the plot and that it was sympathetic Pharisees who tipped Jesus off about the plot. Mark also tells us that Jesus’ and his disciples were very tired. Jesus reaction was not to confront Herod but to take the cautious approach, they decide to lie low for a while.

But even outside Galilee they could not escape: Luke says it is Bethsaida to the east of where the Jordan river flows into Lake Galilee,. Foot messengers running can go faster than a rowed boat, it all depends on the wind. A man on horseback can go even faster. Given that the crowds were waiting for Jesus we can assume two things, that the wind was low and that news of Jesus had already reached outside Galilee. Despite their tiredness and the need for secrecy, Jesus and the disciples are effectively fugitives, Jesus shows compassion on the crowds and spends the day with them healing the sick.

The word translated compassion is only used 12 times in the New Testament, and 8 of them are of Jesus showing compassion and 3 of the rest are in Jesus’ parables:

  • a King shows compassion on a bankrupt servant and forgives his debt and we are to forgive other people their debts
  • a Samaritan has compassion on a Jewish victim of a mugging and care for him in love
  • a father has compassion on his wayward son and runs and greets him when he comes home

This compassion is more than just sympathy.

In contrast to Jesus having compassion is the disciples reaction. “Send them away,” they say, understandably because it is evening, they are in a desolate place and they haven’t got enough food for so many people. Jesus disagrees and tells the disciples to give them food. When they complain that what they have is inadequate to feed so many, only 5 loaves and 2 fish, Jesus says, “bring them to me.”

What we have can seem inadequate to the task.

It is at this point I was about to post an example of how God has used me despite my inadequacy, but there were other people involved and I am not in the position to ask them permission to talk about them, even with names changed. Each time it was a time when I felt like a failure, I am a serial backslider, but I was the one who was there at a time when something needed doing. What I wanted to illustrate is that God is not after experts. Training is good, but more than anything else what God is after is availability. In the story in Matthew’s gospel it says the disciples had a small amount of bread and fish, John’s Gospel adds the detail that a boy provided the food.

There are two instructions here, the first is that Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” Often when we bring things to Jesus in prayer the answer is that Jesus wants us to be involved. We are the instruments of Jesus being involved in the world.

The second instruction,when what we can offer God never seems adequate, Jesus says, “bring them to me.” We may feel weak and under resourced, but God is strong and has lots of resources.

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