It must have come as quite a shock. John had been murdered, his head literally delivered on a platter to a spoiled princess and her conniving mother by a foolish, arrogant and heartless king. Such cruelty was horrific. Unthinkable. Heartbreaking.
John! O John! Jesus must have wept. His cousin, almost like a brother. They had been bound to one another since they were babes in their mothers’ wombs. John always leading the way for Jesus. It was John who had called people to repent, to make themselves ready spiritually and mentally for the kingdom of heaven. For the Lord. For Jesus. And it was John who had baptized Jesus, preparing him to establish that kingdom. And it was John who had recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. But now John was dead. And Jesus was left to grieve.
It’s easy to understand why Jesus would want to be alone for a little while. He had been traveling and teaching and healing people all over Judea. And, all the while, dealing with skeptics and critics and thick-headed fishermen. He needed some time to himself. To be alone with God to process the news. To mourn the tragedy. And to come to grips with the harsh reality. If the rulers of this world had beheaded John, who was the messenger, what would they do to Jesus the Messiah?
Jesus decides to get away for a little while, so he gets in a boat and heads off to parts unknown. But the crowds follow him. They need him. They are sick. They are broken. They are intrigued. They are lost. Alone. Confused. They are hungry. They are hungry for things that they probably cannot even name. They are hungry for God. They might not call it that. Maybe all they know is that they need something. Someone. Help. They need help. They’re sure not getting it from Herod.
He did not care about them. He was too wrapped up in his own needs and wants and wishes. He didn’t care what they needed or what they thought. Herod didn’t care what anyone thought. If he wanted something, he took it. Who cares if Herodias was his brother’s wife? Herod wanted her, so he took her. Didn’t matter to Herod that Herodias was also his niece, which made their relationship incestuous. Herod did not care. He did not care that he was already married. Herod didn’t even care that, by divorcing his first wife, he instigated a war that led to the destruction of his own army. Herod did not care about anybody but Herod. So he ate and he drank and he gambled with the lives of people too weak or poor or uninformed to protect themselves.
The crowds needed help. And they find it in Jesus. Jesus seems to have the answers. He seems to have the power. He seems to have what they need. What they’ve been yearning for. What they must have now. So they follow Jesus. Right out into the middle of nowhere. Jesus traveled by boat, but the people walked. That’s how much they needed him! They were willing to follow him anywhere, no matter how difficult the journey might be. Somehow they knew where he was going (maybe they followed the disciples) and they got there before Jesus. As soon as he steps on the shore, Jesus is confronted by a great crowd of people and their overwhelming need.
You can bet Herod would not have allowed anyone to interrupt his rest. He could have cared less what the people needed. But Jesus had compassion for them. He loved them so much that he set aside his own need for comfort and solitude, and he took care of them. Jesus cared for them. But he did more than care. He acted. He cured their sick.
We’re not sure how long he worked with them that day, but I suspect it was a long, hard day. When evening came, the disciples said, “It’s getting late, and these people have a long walk back to town. Send them away so they can go get something to eat.”
Jesus said, “There’s no reason for them to leave. You can feed them.” The disciples did not see how that was possible. All they had were five loves of bread and two fish. That wasn’t nearly enough to feed such a large crowd. But they were not thinking big enough. They forgot that they were talking to Jesus. The one who had healed a man with leprosy just by stretching out his hand and touching him. They forgot that Jesus was the one who had healed the centurion’s servant without even meeting him or knowing what was wrong with him. They forgot that Jesus could cast out evil spirits with a single word and rebuke the winds and calm the waves. They forgot that Jesus can do anything.
They were looking at what they had and what they could do, and they found it insufficient.
We do that, sometimes. We look at ourselves, and all we can see is what is lacking. Where we fall short. What we don’t have. But Jesus does not ask us to give what we do not have. Jesus takes what we do have, what we are willing to give, and does far more with it than we could ever imagine!
That day on the beach, Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed five thousand men and countless more women and children. Some scholars say there might have been as many as 20,000 people on the beach that day, and Jesus fed them. He fed the sick. The outcast. The unwanted. People that no one else cared about. Jesus fed them all. And he didn’t give them a little. A taste. A morsel. They all ate and were filled. They were no longer lacking. No longer in need. No longer hungry. They were filled. They all had enough.
Which is quite a miracle in itself, right? One person meeting all those needs, especially when he had so little to work with. Five loaves of bread and two fish. That’s next to nothing! Compared to the huge need, five loaves of bread and two fish is nothing. But in the hands of Jesus, those five loves and two fish were more than enough to meet every need. After everyone had been served, there were 12 baskets full of leftovers. Twelve baskets full of broken pieces. Twelve baskets full of crumbs.
Others would have overlooked those bits and pieces, but Jesus did not. Nothing was wasted with the Lord. All those broken bits were gathered up and redeemed.
Remember when we used to redeem Coke bottles? We took those empty bottles and sold them back to the store. Those bottles were valuable. They were worth something. They were useful. They still served a purpose.
Jesus saw those broken pieces of bread and fish, things that others would have discarded, things that others HAD discarded, and he saw value in them. They were worth something. They were useful. They could still serve a purpose. So he redeemed them. Just like he saved all those broken and discarded people on the beach that day.
In the kingdom of God, even the leftovers are worth saving.
It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have to give. It doesn’t matter how insignificant we think we are. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the world thinks we are. It doesn’t matter if we are old or young or feeble or broken or sick or tired or strung out or stressed out or maxed out. God is not through with us. The world may cast us aside. But, in God’s eyes, even the leftovers can be redeemed.