Operating from a Place of Grief
Operating from a Place of Grief
The gospel lesson from Matthew is a well known piece of scritpure. It recounts the feeding of the 5000, the only miracle of Jesus to be featured in all four gospels. We know the highlights of the story well. The people came to hear Jesus speak, to be healed by him and at the end of the day Jesus commanded the disciples to feed them. From some a few simple loaves and fish many were fed. What we don’t often discuss about this passage is Jesus’ state of mind in this passage.
We often think that church and religion are primarily concerned about the spiritual health of people. In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus healed the sick and then he fed them. Jesus takes care of the physical needs of the people. Offering hospitality and aid are linked with the Christian identity.
The need to feed people has not diminished. We know that in our own community that we serve each week through the Soup Kitchen. Presbyterian World Service & Development partners with the Canada Food Grains Bank to send food aid around the world. The need to feed people is as great as ever. Often, this is where we focus our attention when the feeding of the 5000 comes up in scripture.
Today, I want to approach this story from a different perspective. I want to sit with the first lines of the passage and put things in perspective. “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
What did Jesus hear?
If we read back a few verses we learn that the cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist, has been executed by Herod. If we’ve followed the sub-narrative of John as it is presented in the gospels we know he is a fierce preacher, a prophet who heralded the way for Jesus. We also know that he criticized Herod’s larger family and their public immorality. We know that he is beheaded in what Scott Hoezee describes as, “a drinking party gone awry and on account of his public scolding of Herod’s larger family for their equally public immorality. He gets killed not because he heralded Jesus as the Christ and not on account of some big, cosmically vital theological issue but on account of having ticked off the wrong people by pointing out the sordid and lurid nature of their lives.” (Scott Hoezee)
Jesus, upon learning this news, gets in a boat and withdraws from society. He takes time to be alone because he is grieving. Grieving at the loss of us cousin, a family member he loved. Grieving at the loss of a prophet of God who spoke the truth. Grieving because he knows that a similar fate awaits him and perhaps the truth of that is hitting hard. Jesus takes time to be alone, to process his grief. Unfortunately, the crowds of people don’t know this and they follow him.
I often wonder how did Jesus deal with the pain and hurt of all those who gathered around him, when he himself is dealing with pain and grief? When he was feeling lonely and exhausted. The intensity of grief that Jesus feels, which forces him to withdraw to the wilderness. Prior to this Jesus has been rejected at Nazareth, at this point in his minister Jesus must be feeling very alone.
I think about, first responders who are exhausted, who get up again every day and go back out to deal with the grim realities of Covid-19.
I think about, doctors and nurses who on a routine basis deal with death and disease, all while balancing the fragile realities of their own lives.
All of us have grieved one loss or another. An analogy for grief I’ve found helpful is as follows, “As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
“In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out.” (The Loss Foundation)
Whether it was dealing with an illness or the death of a loved one, we have felt the pain of loss. We have known a deep sadness in our hearts. We have watched countless hours pass us by because we didn’t know how to respond to the grief, we were unable to lift ourselves up from it. Grief can be terribly difficult to deal with and process.
Recently, society has been opening up again. Not fully, not like it was, but we are trying to get there. For the past five months it has been all about how do we get there and we are trying to get back to normal. In the busyness of this rush to return to normality, have we stopped to reflect on how things were and how things are now? Do we take the time to grieve? Have we over the past five months of lock-down and now slowly opening up, taken the time to grieve the many things that have been lost?
- The school year
- Vacation and travel plans
- Trust in our elder care systems
- Lost jobs and financial security
- Loss of contact, being able to hug and shake hands
- Loss of church and other forms of communal life
- Summer sports
We focus on the crowd, their need, the miracle of the meal. The only miracle of Jesus which shows up in all four gospels, this story is important. However, I think it is important due to the place Jesus is in emotionally when it happens. From a position of grief, we witness an outpouring of hospitality and generosity. Jesus sees the crowd, Jesus has compassion for them. From the wilderness, a place that was thought to be barren of life, out of this place Jesus brings life and nourishment.
The good news comes, that out of nothing Jesus feeds the many. We are living in a time of social scarcity, what will God do with this time? What new thing is about to happen? I look forward to walking with you and with God during this time as we witness these new things. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.