Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ?This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.? Jesus said to them, ?They need not go away; you give them something to eat.? They replied, ?We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.? And he said, ?Bring them here to me.? Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
"Five thousands men, besides women and children." The actual tally may be difficult to truly determine, but the message is clear: there were many mouths to feed. So, Jesus performs a miracle to feed them. Yet, the miracle often obscures an important lesson in this passage. Before transforming small amounts of food into plenty, Jesus makes it clear to the disciples that the needs of the people must come before all else.
Jesus is grieving. He chooses to be alone when he hears of John the Baptist's death, yet the crowd and Jesus' disciples follow. Jesus reacts to this intrusion of privacy not with anger, or even any perceived annoyance. He reacts with compassion for their needs. He heals the sick and feeds them when food is scarce. Only after this, when everyone is "satisfied," does Jesus take the time needed to be alone and grieve for John.
This is not simply an act of selflessness. It is a lesson to the disciples and to those who follow Jesus, that compassion and service come first. Jesus wasn't just looking for alone time. He wasn't looking for a little peace and quiet, a moment away from the constant teaching and questions. He was grieving the death of a relative. Who could blame Him if he followed the advice of the disciples, sending the crowd away to buy food in the villages? He had already healed the sick. Had he not done enough for them?
No. That is not His way. Jesus sets aside his own needs, and instead, instructs the disciples to feed the crowd, to serve them. When they cannot, Jesus acts to serve them himself.
The needs of the many come first, and there are many in need. Yet, our busy lives often crowd us. We shrink back, seeking to attend to our own needs: a few moments alone, time to tend to unfinished tasks, that precious free time that we have waited all week to enjoy. In those moments, we tend to cling to our own needs and forget the lesson above. When we try to escape from the world and focus on our own needs, who would Jesus tell us to serve?
Still Speaking God, forgive us when we forget about the rest of your children. Help us to live as Jesus did, to serve the many and to live compassionately at all times in our lives.