I recently discovered something about Jesus that broke my heart for him. While I was studying the life, and in this case, the death of John the Baptist, I saw a connection between two narratives that I realized was actually a single flowing narrative. It was always there. I had read through it multiple times. But this time, I picked up on something different that gave me a new perspective that filled me with sorrow, but at the same time, it gave me a new lens to look upon Jesus with a sincere and reverent admiration.
My discovery started with the story of John imprisoned by King Herod because John had been telling him that it was unlawful for him to take his brother’s wife. Herod was so upset that he wanted to kill John but was afraid of causing a revolt because John had a lot of followers (Matthew 14:3-5). Later King Herod put his foot in his mouth during his very public birthday party by promising the daughter of Herodias, his brother’s wife, that he would grant her whatever she asked for. He did this because she performed a dance for him that pleased him greatly (Mt. 14:6-7). It seems that good old mommy dear found a way to circumvent Herod’s fear of killing John, and used that fear against Herod by preloading a request to her daughter, which was to have John beheaded and delivered to her on a platter. Because Herod had given an oath to Herodias’s daughter in front of everyone, he was pressured to follow through on the request. Instantly, John was beheaded and delivered to the girl on a platter, which she carried to her mother (Mt. 14:8-11). A horrific turn of events from very devious plotting in the background over the life of John the Baptist. In light of modern days media coverage, beheadings are modern day realities exposed in a global theater. This story becomes even more visceral.
Now in my previous readings, that’s where a story ended. And the next story, for me, was separate and unrelated. A byproduct of shallow reading and unskilled study methods. But the bridge is verse 12, “John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus,” and this is where my understanding and emotions kick in. It continues on like this:
“13. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
14. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’
16. Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’” (Mt. 14:13-16, italicization added by me)
When I read verse 13, that’s when my heart for Jesus went out to him. It’s believed that Jesus and John were second cousins. They may not have been working together side by side, but there was a significant impact to Jesus upon hearing that his blood relative, John, was brutally murdered. A tragic loss. I thought about what I would do his situation. I thought about how I would feel. I know what it’s like losing someone and feeling helpless with what to do with that loss. It’s a very traumatic situation that Jesus is in. And so, he withdrew himself to try and find privacy.
It’s at this point that I recall the emotions that Jesus had when he went to see the body of Lazarus, who had died four days prior to his arrival. He was moved deeply by everyone’s mourning and wept with them. The people that saw him knew Jesus loved Lazarus. Even though he was about to bring Lazarus back to life, our God unveiled His heart to us, in our losses, through His son Jesus (John 11:17-44). And it’s beautiful to me!
Having this in mind, it wasn’t hard for me to imagine as Jesus withdrew by himself, the tears and grief that covered his face. How he sought after solace with his Father. I think about the anger I would feel and the justice I would want. I wouldn’t want to be around anyone else, I couldn’t be around anyone! I identify with Jesus, and join him in grieving. As if this just happened to him, I say sorry to Jesus with tears in my eyes. I’m there. Sitting next to him on his boat. His loss was real and I feel it with him. I can't help the gratitude that wells up in my heart and I thank Jesus for pushing through his struggles, where he inevitably conquers the grave and gives all people the potential to have direct, unrestricted access to the God of the universe through the Holy Spirit.
And I continued reading on and immediately, I’m struck by the realization that there are thousands of people on the shores waiting for him. It doesn’t say, “when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he quickly turned back,” or,
“he yelled at everyone to leave him alone,” or,
”he said to come back and find him again in a month,” or,
”he told everyone of the murder of John, his cousin, and incited a rebellion.”
No. He doesn't say any of these things. Instead the Bible says, “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
This is where I discovered a newfound admiration for Jesus. If there was ever a bottom-of-the-barrel depletion of emotion that you would expect from someone who had gone through what Jesus had just gone through, it would be the day after they learn about losing a family member in a horrific murder. And yet, there’s still a reserve in Jesus to operate out of compassion.
He also heals the sick that’s in this giant crowd. He must of done this for hours, because verse 15 talks about evening approaching and the disciples are informing Jesus that there aren’t any 7-11’s or McDonalds around. As the story continues, I see something I hadn’t seen before in verses 17 to 21– a manifestation of what had happened in his heart, unfolding in his instructions to feed the thousands of people that followed after him, with the five loaves and two fishes that his disciples had in verse 19. Afterwards they collected twelve baskets full of broken pieces of food. It becomes evident to me that Jesus demonstrated an emotional miracle he had by overflowing miracles of healing and multiplying of food into physical reality.
Not only does this inspire me, but it challenges my perception on my capacity. It challenges me to look at what I think I have and what I think I can give away, and do I carry compassion in my heart when I am sad, hurt, angry or feel empty? How willing am I to allow the needs of others come before my needs? My physical needs are easier for me to be open handed than with my emotional needs. I’m stretched way more thinking about allowing interruptions to my emotional well being when I desperately need soul nourishment, i.e. alone time or time to process, etc.. Jesus shows what a flexible heart looks like.
What I saw as two separate, distinct narratives, the death of John and the feeding of the five thousand (that number doesn’t include women and children, so an even more impressive miracle), I now see as one sweeping narrative that gives greater emotional impact and prompts me for a personal heart response. Of course, the whole Bible is one sweeping narrative of the love of God for His creation!
I’ll end with a summary of verse 22 and 23, that after everyone was fed Jesus immediately dismissed the disciples and the crowd. Then again, went off by himself to the mountains to pray that evening. He shows the urgency that he needed to take his time in solitude, on the same day.
I pray that this helps you see Jesus and his life in a deeper, more enriching way. I pray that the Bible opens up to you, if you’ve ever read it for yourself but haven’t understood, that you can see God’s heart in it and understand of His character. Amen.