What does a deserted place look like?
by Karen Gibson
Gospel Reading: Matthew 14:13-21
For Sunday, July 31, 2011: Year A—Ordinary 18
Jesus is blown out of the water (and gets onto a boat) when he hears that John, his cousin, was beheaded over some family drama at Herod’s “Dancing with the Stars” party. Jesus wants some alone time. I get it. Head to someplace, anyplace, that’s deserted!
Even though Jesus desires to be alone, when he saw the crowds that relentlessly followed, he didn’t pitch a fit, get back in the boat, and try to make another getaway. Instead, Jesus’ heart is filled with compassion. He began to cure them.
So what’s the disciples’ deal?
The text starts in this supposedly “deserted place.” For me, deserted = alone. But the place was filled with people, i.e. not deserted. So the disciples start trying to fix this little problem.
They insist that the “the hour is now late.” I get that; the text says it was evening; the Lord’s had a long day. Then they say, “send the crowds away.” Then the disciples decide it’s time for everyone to eat. What? Do we read anything in the text that made you think/feel like the crowds were hungry? At my house, people say they are hungry, when they are hungry. So what’s the disciples’ deal? There’s so much conflicted reasoning here.
Who is this story about?
Aren’t disciples, regardless of their own experiential lenses, supposed to emulate Jesus?
Despite his personal grief over John and his desire to get away, Jesus wasn’t complaining about the time, nor was the crowd.
Seems to me, that the disciples, in their infinite wisdom (yeah, sarcasm) were trying to give the crowd the heave-ho. Maybe they were hungry or were tired because it’s past their bedtimes. Maybe they were ready to go home because they were weary. All of the maybes are screaming (perhaps because of my own lenses) the disciples are making this story about themselves.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t finagle a single reason for them to say, “this is a deserted place.” It wasn’t. They were there. The crowds were there. Jesus was there. The place was not deserted. They were not alone. Subtract the crowds. It’s still not deserted. Subtract two or four or six disciples. It’s still not deserted.
Maybe the key is that the disciples felt deserted. I get that. My family, a group of my friends, an entire congregation, can surround me and I can still feel like I’m in a deserted place.
The Hardest Question
What’s the value of deserted places and do they really, truly, exist?
Rev. Karen N Gibson is the transition pastor at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Lexington, SC. She’s been told more than once, she doesn’t fit the stereotype of grandmomma or a pastor because neither – sport tats, cuss, want their daughter to dye a blue streak in her hair, and want another motorcycle. The loves of her life are her husband, her family, her dogs, books, a quiet beach, driving, and serving God (but not always in that order).