Sunday, 3 August 2014

Caring in the face of tragedy.

Matthew 14:13-21

I wonder when it is that you feel you need some time alone. 

What is it that means that you feel that you need to take some time out? 

Often I feel like this when I am encountering difficulties; I have been overloaded with responsibilities; work is a bit too much; or maybe I have heard bad news. 

Maybe, you are the same. Maybe there are times that life all seems a bit much and you need some space.  You just want to stop!

The story from Matthew’s gospel begins with the words, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”

Of course we know that despite his efforts to go off and be alone a crowd turns up and Jesus responds to their needs: they need healing and they need hope.

But if you are like me you might be stuck back at the beginning of the reading.

What had Jesus heard?  Why did he withdraw? Why did Jesus need some time alone?

What Jesus had heard was that his cousin John had been beheaded by Herod.  The story is depraved.  It was Herod’s birthday party and he already had John in a cell somewhere.  In the midst of the party his niece danced before the assembled group and so impressed was his uncle that he promised to give the girl anything she wanted.

Prompted by Herodias, her mother, the girl asks for John’s head on a platter.

The bloodied birthday feast of Herod is the news Jesus has received – his cousin the victim of politics and passion.

What was Jesus seeking in the solace: maybe, to mourn and to cry for his cousin who had baptised him? To despair at the barbarity of the act? To seek meaning and maybe resolve and strength for his own purpose as he continued his ministry?  Maybe simply to try to make sense of what had happened? To reconnect with God, to pray?

I have little doubt that Jesus withdrew for many if not all of these reasons.

Just as we seek to withdraw from the bad news that comes to haunt us in our lives in this world:

It could be personal news:
The news of the terminal illness of a family member.
The news of the death of a friend.  We had a funeral this week in the church where hundreds gathered to mourn.
News of abuse, loss, loneliness, and the long litany of heartache that can overwhelm us.

It could be national or international news:
News of children held in detention.
News of children being killed in the Gaza strip.
News from Syria and other places around the world where violence has become integral to the way of life. The news of Christians being persecuted and even crucified by ISIS in Iraq.

Maybe it is personal news and maybe it is the big issues, whatever it is these things can weigh heavily on hearts and our souls.  Take a moment to think about the week that has passed on the moments of worry and heartbreak that you have felt. (silence)

But as we know Jesus does not get the space to reflect, his withdrawal to be alone ends up with thousands coming after him.  People, who like him in his moment of sadness and like you and I, are seeking help – they need healing and hope, they need teaching and understanding.

He sees their need, he has compassion and he feeds them through his healing and his words.  Despite his own breaking heart Jesus, God with us, goes on reaching out to others because the world goes on: life continues!

To me this is the beginning of the miracle.  That Jesus, God with us, transcends his own breaking heart to help and hold others in his love. What come next with the bread and fish may seem a wonderful sign of his power to do miracles but it his heart of love at the outset that stands out.

For me this is the good news that whilst God might look upon the terror and tragedies of our lives and feel such loss within himself he continues to reach out as life goes on for everyone else in the midst of their trials and tribulations.

In the miracle of the feeding the disciples offer bread and fish but I wonder whether it is the small offerings that we give that can be transformed into moments of beautiful hope, a glimpse of grace, of God’s kingdom comes near:

When a meal is cooked for a grieving family.
When a coffin is painted by grandchildren and family members to find hope in the moment of goodbyes.
When a smile is given, or time generously spent.
When simple asking someone the question, ‘Are you OK?’
When some Iraqi Muslims identify as Christians and so share in protest against their persecution.
When there is cease fire in the Gaza strip so the dead can be buried and aid brought to those who suffer.
When Christians gather to pray for asylum seeker children and protest against their incarceration.
When people step aside and worship God and are transformed to live renewed again by their faith in the days ahead.

Like the small offerings of bread and fish these offerings are signs of God’s love in the face of the news gone bad and God takes this offering and turns so many into signs of the love of God in our midst.

Jesus continues to have compassion, God does not stop caring for us even though his very heart breaks at the news he receives.  And more, God provides abundantly in the face of the terror. 

As we find ourselves in moments of struggle and despair let us find hope in remembering Jesus willingness to reach out despite the depths of his own pain and like the disciples may we too help offer what little we have to the work he is doing: bread and fish, hope and love.

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