August 3, 2008 XII Pentecost (RCL Proper 13/A) Matthew 14: 13-21
Just back from vacation and having just had a few hours to address—or at least begin to address--the stack of mail and phone messages and acres of accumulated e-mails and all the rest, I have I guess a certain sympathetic reading of the spirit of Matthew 14: 13, “Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
We’ve all been there, of course: facing whatever challenges meet us as we get out of bed in the morning and step into the complexity of our day—work, family, home, studies, in whatever configuration our life situation and responsibilities unfold before us. When our kids were little they had a book we would read to them about all the different kinds of jobs and activities and efforts were behind the ordinary events of our day to day lives, the grocery store, the post office, and so on: called “Busy Day, Busy People.” Which probably could serve as a signboard over most of us most of the time. Even on vacation, these days, to talk about the temptation or even some kind of compulsive need which I seem to have to check e-mail and phone messages on an almost daily basis.
So we take a breath, something of a deep breath, when we hear this word, “Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place, by himself.” The great spiritual writers all talk about this, as the gospel writers describe Jesus doing this many times, as a regular part of his pattern of life, and certainly we have all heard and felt the need to find a quiet corner for an hour, or a day, or, if we have the opportunity, for a week of retreat and reflection and recollection, and rest. Not certainly the busyness of a family vacation, with all the activities of recreation and social life, wonderful as those experiences can be. But “to a deserted place, by himself.”
It’s not about running away from reality, but in a different sense almost about “running away TO reality.” To a place where the noise level drops, and he can hear himself think, where even the inner noise of his own thoughts can quiet, and in the stillness, to begin to hear the voice of the Father whispering in his heart.
The retreat doesn’t last too long. I guess they’re never quite long enough. The phone begins to ring again. But that seems to be o.k. with Jesus. His heart is filled not with annoyance at the interruption, but with compassion, care, love. And he doesn’t respond with resentment, but with this graceful abundance of healing. “He had compassion on them, and cured their sick.” And then in this Eucharistic miracle and foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
In Matthew’s telling of the story we don’t see the boy bringing his offering, but the five loaves and two fish are there, and there is the blessing and the miracle, as all are fed and are filled and even so, what began as just a tiny offering has been magnified so that even the clean-up crew later on needs a dozen great baskets just to take care of what’s left behind. Twelve baskets of course a richly symbolic detail, the Twelve Tribes, Old Israel, and the Twelve Disciples, signs of the New Israel of God. A new dispensation, a new morning, a new day, a new creation.
There are and have been over the years and centuries all kinds of efforts to make sense of this moment and to rationalize what is happening here, the healing and the feeding of the multitudes, but the only explanation that works for me and that makes any sense at all is that what we have before us is simply the miraculous and abundant overflowing of the heart of the Father reflected in the life of the Son. God’s good gift, breathtaking and perfect. The broken made whole again, the hungry fed with a spiritual food, the silent voices filled with song. And blessing and peace.