“And seeing the multitudes…”
– Matthew 5:1 –
Do you ever feel…chased?
About to pop for one minute of stillness? One blessed second without voices asking for favors, more tasks added to the to-do list, another job arriving in your inbox?
Multitudes find me, especially at the end of the day, when the day’s grit has scraped a raw path between my toes. My skin and my patience both wear thin.
Multitudes seek me, especially in the early morning when the sky is a quiet, starless navy in the hour before dawn. I try to soak in the peace–but then it shatters.
Multitudes swarm. In the house, in the driveway, in the church down the road, in Wal-Mart. Everywhere.
I wonder how Jesus did it. I’m not God, I don’t do miracles, I have sin weighing me down–but how did He handle the constant press of bodies, the endless needs, the truth-hungry, the miracle-seeking?
I think Jesus was emotionally and physically drained at this point. Mark’s Gospel says:
“And He said to [the disciples], ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” – Mark 6:30
I don’t pretend to understand the full implications of the total humanity and Divinity in Jesus. All I know is He is sinless, yet voluntarily vulnerable to grief and pain. Some commentators suggest Christ’s withdrawal was to get out from under Herod’s nose, since it was not His time to die, nor was His death meant to be a beheading like John’s. But as my family recently read this passage, I jolted, realizing the draining situations He had just left behind.
It’s part of humanity–rejection hurts. People he loved turned their backs on Him–family perhaps, craftsmen who had grown up hewing wood with Him, women his mother had often accompanied to the well, families that his family had traveled with on the way to Jerusalem for Passover. These weren’t random strangers, these Nazareth-born Jews that rejected their Messiah. They were his brothers-in-law and childhood schoolmates. This is not a glancing blow–what a sorrowful, deep wound for Jesus! I think we are mistaken to think that just because He is fully God that His Deity shielded Him from hurt.
If this were you, how would you take it? What if your siblings thought you were crazy? What if your extended relatives called you a blasphemer? If your church tried to throw you in jail or hired a hit man to get rid of you? If the kids down the street that you played with growing up, your classmates throughout school, all of the people who had rubbed shoulders and gone traveling and laughed and eaten with you–what if every single one of them rejected you, viciously?
The ache. The disappointment. What a heavy spirit Jesus surely carried after that encounter!
And then to find out that John the Baptist had been murdered by the manipulated Herod Antipas. Jesus’ ministry had launched out of John’s proclamations, grown by the disciples that John had nurtured. The wild joy and fearlessness of His cousin surely had refreshed Jesus many times–and now he was dead.
Matthew 14:13 recounts:
“When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by himself.”
He took his disciples and left.
“Yes. Rest. That’s what we need.” Don’t you know that the disciples were relieved to shove off from shore and row to a place free of Roman puppets and cranky neighbors and–most of all–free of people!
So they got away, to a deserted place.
And, almost before they could turn around, the crowd appeared. Five thousand men, not to mention their wives and children!
And Jesus had compassion on them (Matthew 14:14). Compassion.
When the day has wrung me out, I don’t feel like compassion. I feel like running. I feel like hiding. I definitely do not feel like teaching, or ministering, or feeding one more. I want to get away and rest a while. Or forever.
But that is not what our Savior did. He stayed.
Of course, there are times that we must rest. But for most of us, that time is NOT just whenever we feel tired, is it? Again and again in our lives, we have to push on in spite of pain or exhaustion. We have to work toward the prize. We have to pray for compassion, for enough love to give to just one more person before we collapse into bed at night.
Press on, sisters. Don’t lose heart.
Cry out for one more drop of mercy to share, one more word of love to scatter, one more smile to brighten a path. Let’s be women enough to rejoice and thank God even while sweat is dripping from our faces and our muscles burn with effort.
Because the multitude is so much more than just a cluster of unmet needs.
In the crowds He sends to us, Jesus often tucks in someone who needs just what we have to give.
Tucked in His own multitude of 5,000, low-on-faith disciples watched and wondered. A boy saw his lunchbox turned into a banquet. What joy!
Are the sufferings now worth anything compared to what we are promised in return, one day?
This, like so many things, is about faith.
How we face our “multitudes” is about faith! Do we really believe that God will reward our labor? Do we really believe that we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9)? Do we really believe that the next person that comes in front of us is a person we are heaven-called to love? Do we really believe what Jesus said–that the last will be first, that whoever loves Him will obey Him?
With wisdom, we will take breaks. We should seek rest and recreation, allowing ourselves to be refreshed, enjoying the good things that God provides.
But let’s not wimp out, girls! We have a mission of love to accomplish, and such an awesome Captain leading the charge!
So next time I get up early and my silence shatters…
The next time you drive into the lot and the people descend…
Remember Jesus’ compassion. Remember how much we are forgiven. Think of how lavishly we are loved–and then, “go and do likewise.”
Besides…who is to say? Sometimes we are the teacher at the front of the crowd.
And sometimes we are the needy child, carrying a sack lunch, unaware of the glorious blessing about to swoop down on our head.