Ericka, Jacob and I spent the last week on Mayne Island with friends. For me, it was a much needed, and incredibly restorative retreat. For the first time in a long time, I was able to almost completely unplug. I ignored email. I removed Facebook from my phone. It was glorious. We read books. We cooked together. Our accommodations came with an espresso machine. It was a gift of abundance.
I’m not sure if that’s what Jesus was hoping for when he sought to withdraw from the crowds. I don’t know if espresso would have been to his taste, or whether that would have been any comfort when he heard the news that John the Baptist had just been executed.
John his cousin. John his mentor. John who baptized him. John who had pointed so many others in Jesus’ direction, claiming HE was the real deal.
Of course this news would have left Jesus troubled. John had been killed. And in that moment, I imagine two things. Jesus’ sudden, overwhelming grief, and his need to retreat and consider his next move. John’s death was a logical consequence of his revolutionary posture and actions. Jesus follows in his footsteps. What could this mean for him?
On a day like today, a day our city celebrates Pride, perhaps we too can think of the needless deaths of many who have come before. Deaths that have everything to do with the way in which our society values some lives over others.
In the heart of the mighty, oppressive, all-consuming Roman Empire; in the midst of a society known for its voracious appetites – for grain and lumber, for its labourers and its young – John, the prophetic revolutionary feasted on locusts and wild honey. This sweet feast is Jesus’ inheritance, providing energy for the road ahead.
Jesus’ ministry builds on and expands John’s way. A small movement gains steam. Seeds cast onto all sorts of soil take root. Good news proclaimed not to the well-to-do, the well-adjusted, or the well-off, but seed cast everywhere. Good news is proclaimed to those society has cast out, to those who are now welcomed to participate in this upside-down kingdom.
There’s a street party and parade everywhere he goes.
For Jesus, I imagine there’s this tension. The emptiness, hollowness and confusion of death. The desire for retreat, perspective, and discerning next steps.
And yet, instead of spending a week on a quiet island with family, friends, good food and a few decent cups of coffee, his plans for quiet meditation are foiled. Instead, they are confronted by the sick, the lame, and the desperately, desperately hungry. Which is handy, because – at least according to Luke – Jesus has come to proclaim good news to just such people.
What challenges me the most about this story, are Jesus’ words to his disciples. His words to us: YOU give them something to eat.
The disciples participate in the miracle. It might be a miracle of generosity. It might be the miracle of manna from heaven (we’ve seen that one before). Whatever the case, the disciples somehow participate in the miracle, together. Once they’re done with their grumbling.
All too often, I find myself in this story as the grumbling disciple. Like the disciples, I find myself complaining before discerning and responding to God’s will. I imagine transformation taking place not only for those who had hungered, but also for the disciples, once again confronted with the miracle of God’s provision.
When you’re living on the margins, daily bread is good news. Bread and fishes, with 12 baskets left over. A prophetic act of grace, generosity and abundance in an all-consuming culture.
Reading and re-reading this story, I’m left wondering, how are we being called to participate with Jesus in the miracle of abundance? And how are we preparing, and being prepared to do so, even in the face of exhaustion, fear, or even opposition?