Isaiah 55, 1-3; Psalm 145, 8-9. 15-16, 17-18; Romans 8, 35. 37-39; Matthew 14, 13-21

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see if there are any ideas underneath. I will be pleased if you grab hold of an idea and pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots.

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist.

What exactly did Jesus hear? What did his disciples, who had just buried the corpse of John, tell him? Did Jesus simply hear of the untimely passing of his relative, or did he hear of the gory and revolting details? Did Jesus know that Herod first had John imprisoned for his unwavering and vocal judgment that Herod was in an unlawful union with his sister-in-law Herodias? Did Jesus know that if it were not for the ostentatious generosity of Herod offered as a reward to the daughter of Herodias in the midst of his birthday party guests, then John would still be alive? Did Jesus know that if it were not for the spiteful prompting of Herodias, then her daughter would not likely have asked for the head of John on a platter? Did Jesus sense the sad absurdity that the taking of this great life ultimately was done to conveniently maintain an illicit union between a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law?

Homily: How far people will go to keep their lives unruffled? What are the consequences?

He withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

This phrase has has a distinct rhythm to it which points to a strong desire for solitariness. It can be phonetically broken into beats as such: He withdrew / in a boat / to a deserted place / by himself. It appears that the force of this statement points to Jesus making a solo boat trip to the deserted place without his disciples. This conjures up an interesting image of Jesus sailing a boat or rowing a boat by himself. The first question may be why did Jesus withdraw? Was it in order to privately grieve over the death of John? Was it to grieve and to pray? Did he withdraw out of fear? That is, did Jesus withdraw after learning that Herod had proposed to his servants that Jesus was in fact John the Baptist raised from the dead? Did Jesus fear that he too would be imprisoned as a result of the curiosity of Herod? Does the decision of Jesus to use a boat to withdraw speak of the level of solitude he was seeking? Except for one place in the Gospel of Mark, boats are only used in the Gospels to (1) travel to a specific, inhabited place, (2) to protect Jesus while he preached to the crowds, (3) to send away the disciples in while Jesus withdrew on foot to pray, (4) and to fish. In Mark, chapter 6, verses 29-32 it is written: The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Homily: A view of a Jesus who grieves, who suffers emotionally, who needs solitude, who fears, who needs rest from distractions. Do we realize our solidarity with Jesus during our own moments of pain or fear?

The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.

This phrase paints an interesting image of crowds who hear of the desire of Jesus to withdraw / in a boat / to a deserted place / by himself and yet their reaction counters the very intention of Jesus. It also paints an interesting image of the crowds who follow Jesus using the visual contact of his boat. That is, while Jesus sails or rows to his deserted place, the people are walking along the shore in a direction which they hope will intersect with the docking place of Jesus. I wonder if some turned back and gave up? That is, was there a point of no return in terms of making a decision to either press on and abandon the familiar -- their town borders -- food -- comfort, etc., and follow the boat of Jesus by foot on shore, or to turn around and head back to the familiar -- their town -- food -- comfort, etc.? Also, what were they looking for? Teaching? Healing?

Homily: What would we want from Jesus? What would we look for? How much would we risk? What is our no turning back point? In the end, who made the right decision: those who may have turned back, or those who pressed on? What crowd would we have wanted to be in?

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured the sick.

What a fascinating thing to occur: Jesus desires to be alone to perhaps pray, grieve, or to contemplate whether he is a marked man by Herod and his efforts lead him into the midst of thousands of people who would not otherwise be there. Any hope for some quality-solitude time is squashed and his reaction is not to push off again on the water -- this time in a zig-zag pattern. Rather his initial desire to take care of his own emotional or spiritual needs is superseded by the needs of others. Perhaps the reason the crowds followed Jesus in the first place is uncovered by the decision of Jesus to cure the sick rather than to teach.

Homily: What kind of heart do we have? Does it ever get moved with pity for the suffering without being followed up by action? Can we use Jesus here as a model of charity working itself out through action?

When it was evening the disciples approached him and said,

Had Jesus been curing the sick for a significant period of time on this particular day? Did he work his cures into the evening? Does this support the large number of people present? Some scholars estimate a crowd of 30,000 with woman and children! It is interesting that the upcoming statement made to Jesus -- and all of those hereafter in this passage -- is made by the disciples (plural). Also, they do not simply make a statement, rather they first approached him, and then speak. An image is conjured up of the disciples making their way through or into a crowd which may have been surrounding Jesus as he cured the sick. Was there safety in numbers in terms of the disciples approaching Jesus and suggesting that he take a particular course of action?

This is a deserted place and it is already late;

I find this line rather humorous. Obviously what the disciples mean here is that this place has no natural or commercial source of food. However, I am picturing the disciples looking over 30,000 people and stating that the place is deserted. What the disciples see is a lack of food. What Jesus sees is people. People to cure. People to feed. People to love -- an opportunity and not a problem.

Homily: Do fear and potentially problematic situation cause us to overlook the obvious? Could you or I look over a crowd of 30,000 individuals and declare a place deserted? Do we sometimes see through people?

dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy some food for themselves.

The authority of Jesus is highlighted here. The person who attracted the crowds possesses the authority to dismiss them. The need for villages (plural) as food sources speaks again of the massiveness of the crowds.

Jesus said to them, There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves But they said to him, Five loaves and two fish are all we have here. Then he said, Bring them here to me, and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.

These are my favorite verses of the story. The disciples have started a dialogical ping-pong match of sorts with Jesus. With what do you suspect Jesus to volley back with after they stated -- five loaves and two fish are all we have? Probably something like -- Okay, sounds like a good idea, good thinking, geez, I completely lost track of time. Instead we hear two statements that come from Jesus which to me have the electrifying force of a strong right hook, followed by a powerful knock-out punch. The disciples are concerned, It is evening, it is late, it is a deserted place and Jesus asks to see the five loaves and two fish. This must have raised a few eyebrows among the disciples. Something is going to happen. And then, my very favorite phrase: he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass! What do you suppose was the last thing the disciples expected to hear Jesus say at this point? You guessed it: sit down on the grass. What were the disciples thinking? Did they have the imagination and fathomability to foresee the wonder that was to come in a few moments? Certainly their eyes were glued on Jesus who was deliberately delaying a reasonable plan to disassemble the crowd.

Homily: Our God is a God of surprises.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over -- twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about 5000 men, not counting women and children.

Lots has been written on this last section. Most commentaries overturn this stone in a big way. It points back to a God who fed the Israelites in the desert. It points forward to the actions of the last supper. It points perhaps ultimately to the messianic banquet where all who eat will be satisfied.

Homily Skeleton

Okay, here is the scene: There are three good reasons for Jesus to get out of town for some quality time alone.

First, he has just heard of the senseless death of his relative, John the Baptist. Herod does not want to be reminded that he is in an illicit union with his sister-in-law; John reminds him -- one thing leads to another, and John is beheaded, Jesus is told, and now Jesus needs some time alone to grieve.

Second, Jesus needs some quality time alone to pray.

Third, Herod has this idea that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, and maybe Jesus sees himself as a marked man who can not risk being apprehended at this point in his ministry.

In any event, Jesus withdraws -- in a boat -- to a deserted place -- by himself.

It can not be any clearer that Jesus needs a getaway weekend.

Now I am not making this next part up. In fact, I am going to read it right from scripture: The crowds heard of this -- and followed him on foot from their towns.

Now I do not own the unabridged multi-volume work, Etiquette and Protocol, by Ms. Manners, but I do know that it might be slightly insensitive to follow someone on foot when you have just heard that the person purposely withdrew -- in a boat -- to a deserted place -- by himself.

Nevertheless, that is the scene we have. Jesus in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a freshwater lake) which is about 13 miles long, and 8 miles wide. You can see across it, and just last February I drove around the entire lake in a little over an hour.

Oh yes, by the way, 20,000-30,000 people are also making their way around the shore of the lake keeping one eye on the rocks, bushes and drift wood in their way, and one eye on the boat of Jesus as they debate with one another exactly where they think he is going to dock.

Some are following Jesus because they want to hear him speak and teach. Some are following Jesus because they want to be cured. Some are following Jesus because they want to see a miracle. Some are following Jesus because everyone else is, and they do not want to miss out on anything.

Some of these people were in such desperate need to have an encounter with Jesus perhaps they would have walked around the Sea of Galilee a dozen times if need be.

But, I bet that there was a certain percentage -- perhaps the ones who were not exactly sure why they were following Jesus -- that had reached a point where they paused and measured their investment of time and travel and wondered if they should press on and abandon the familiar -- their town borders -- food -- comfort, etc., and continue to follow the boat of Jesus by foot on shore, or wondered if they should call it a day and turn around and head back to the familiar -- their town --

food -- comfort, etc.

I think we have all been in that situation in different times in our lives: Should we cut our losses now and just turn around and call it a day? We got tired, we got disinterested, we got suspicious, we did not have a guaranteed return on our investment and we lost our risk-taking spirit.

Well, on this day, if you turned around, you made a bad decision. No only would you have seen many, many miraculous healings, but just when you were feeling the pains of hunger as the sun set and the moon rose, you would have been told by Jesus himself to sit down on the grass.

I love that line. The disciples are concerned, It is evening, it is late, it is a deserted place, Jesus asks to see the five loaves and two fish, and he orders the crowds to sit down on the grass!

And he feeds all who were hungry, until they were all satisfied.

This week I have been asking myself: Would I have turned around? Or, would I have abandoned what was familiar and safe to follow Jesus? And, what would I have wanted from Jesus?

It is a good image for all of us to think about today. They are good questions to ask ourselves; for if we follow Jesus wherever it is that he leads us in this life and abandon what is required to be abandoned to do so, and maintain a focus of what it is that we truly need from our Lord, then we too will never go hungry, in fact we will be forever satisfied.

What would you have done?

What will you do now?

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