Sunday

03 August 2014

“Jesus withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself ... When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” (vv. 13a,14)


Background

There are two versions of this story in Matthew's Gospel, this one and the feeding of the 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-39). The initial context for the feeding of the 5,000 was quite stark - Jesus had just heard of the execution of his cousin, John the Baptist on Herod's orders (Matthew 14:1-12). It was in that light that he went away to a quiet place. We might think that this was quite an understandable reaction in the circumstances. Jesus, as a human person, needed space for mourning, reflection and prayer in response to such devastating news. Jesus presumably also heard of Herod's fears that he himself was John raised from the dead and might then have been fearing for his own life too. Despite this when people from the towns find their way there he had compassion for them and cured their sick. The crowds must have travelled a distance as Jesus came by boat yet they went over land.

The actions of Jesus in sharing the bread and fish with the crowd have echoes of sacred meals. Readers might see in this reflections of stories such as the provision of food for the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16) and this might serve to place Jesus in the line of prophets which includes Elijah. John the Baptist was often also associated with Elijah and this gives us a broader picture of the questions around Jesus' identity as a fulfilment of the prophetic line. However we read that, Jesus' feeding of the hungry crowd points to his compassion and love for them, even in the midst of his own grief and turmoil. It calls us to acknowledge his identity as one bringing God's revelation.


To Ponder

  • Where in your life are you able to find space for reflection and peace?
  • How might you support those who face persecution for their faith or action?
  • How can we live as people of compassion through whatever life brings?


Bible notes author: The Revd Mark Rowland

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