Jesus withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. (Matthew 14.13)
Come the water all you who are thirsty. Though you have no money, come. (Isaiah 55.1)
Jesus said, “Give them something to eat yourselves” (Matthew 14.16)
It’s Saturday morning and I sleep in. At week’s end, how lovely not to rush. To walk for a while at a gentle pace. It’s what Jesus did in this Sunday’s Gospel.
He had just heard the news of the death of John the Baptist, his friend and cousin. Immediately, we are told he withdrew to a lonely place so he and his closest friends could be by themselves for a while. We all need this ‘sabbatical time’, to step away from the pressures of life.
But the realities of life don’t go away. Our Gospel story tells us Jesus was confronted by a crowd of sick who sought him out in their need. As I sipped my second cup of coffee, Premier Andrews again addressed the people of Victoria. No quiet Saturday morning for him, away from it all.
A new set of numbers of sick, and those who had died overnight. Like Jesus, our doctors, nurses, health professionals and emergency responders put their lives at risk the sick. Over a thousand of them sick themselves. I wonder if they get the chance to find a place of quiet and solitude, to nourish themselves?
The disciples want Jesus to turn the sick and hungry away. Let them be someone else’s responsibility. Please don’t let them disturb my peaceful Saturday morning coffee. Jesus’ response? A challenge for us all who live this present threat of sickness and social hardship. “Give them something to eat yourself.”
This Gospel story is a story for today and this text from Matthew has three great messages for all of us.
Firstly, we must take care of ourselves. We need to find our own ‘lonely place’ to nourish ourselves. If it were being written today, perhaps the author might say, “Jesus switched his alert functions to silent”, or maybe he’d even “turned his electronic communication devises off”.
Take time to live life in the moment and the space, just for a while. Touch the earth, look at the sky. Be silent. Even if just for a moment.
Secondly, this is not an end in itself. We nourish ourselves so we can nourish others. Jesus responded by healing the sick and feeding the hungry. That was the immediate need confronting him as he stepped off the boat. What needs confront us in our situation? And do we walk towards them as Jesus did, or turn away, like the disciples, hoping someone else will respond?
Thirdly, this is a story of hope.
The disciples only had five loaves and two fish. How could this be enough when faced with thousands of hungry? But inspired by Jesus’ example, they tried anyway. Not to respond was not an option.
In the face of growing numbers of COVID-19 patients in hospital, our medical professionals keep trying to heal them. As the numbers of positive test results come in, an army of people keep trying to contact trace. As the risk of infection spreading in the community grows, our essential services and other workers continue to do what needs to be done. And Premier Andrews keeps facing the media, to lead when no-one really knows the way.
When we all do what we can and give of what we have, together we will have enough.
Come to the water, all of us who are thirsty, even in our poverty and imperfection, come anyway, the prophet Isaiah gently tells us. For in the words of St Paul in this weekend’s second reading: