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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, August 2, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Matthew 14:13–21

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. (NRSV)

Grief. It’s rough. It’s not just the moments of sheer emotional pain that you feel, but it’s also that feeling like you are constantly wearing that lead apron they put on you at the dentist’s office before the X-rays. Poets have called grief “heaviness,” a metaphor that is a lot more apt that we might like it to be.

Just before this passage starts, John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, and John’s disciples have told Jesus what happened. Jesus’ cousin, who preceded him in ministry, who baptized him, has been murdered on a whim. For Jesus, this state-sanctioned murder must have been a very rough reminder of the end of his earthly road.

How many times do we hear, on the announcement of a death, “please respect the family’s wishes for privacy at this time.” And Jesus withdrew, of course he withdrew, to find a way to process this horrible event.

But the people followed him. They brought their sick to him; he was their hope, their reprieve from fear and helplessness. And in the midst of his grief and his loss, he set aside his concerns and cared for them. He healed their sick. And when the disciples came and said they should send these people away so they could buy food, right after he had put aside his own grief and pain to care for them, he tells them, “No.”

No. we’re not sending them away now, not after I’ve set aside my cousin’s murder to care for the sick. You feed them.

And they had their “But, but, but” moment, and Jesus gathered their food and divided it up and said, “You go feed them. And makes sure everyone has what they need.”

We ask God for a lot, and God bears all things with us. But there are times, more than we’d like to admit, when God says, “I’ve given you what you need; now get to it.”

In the end, we’ve got to carry the bread to those who are hungry.

Lord, you who bear all things with us, remind us that your work is our work, that we are not to sit idly by and ask you to handle everything. Thoughts and prayers are not enough, when you have put into our hands what we need to do your work. Strengthen us to meet your challenge, that we may serve those who need us. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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