At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.
6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
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.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
I love it when things like this happen – just last post I was talking about reading the Bible looking for Jesus’ humanity, and here is a perfect example. You’ve probably heard of both miracles written here – feeding the crowd and walking on water, I certainly have, but I never paid attention to where they fell in the timeline of Jesus’ life. They happen right after John the Baptist is beheaded. While both miracles are awe-inspiring, what really moved me upon this reading were the two small allusions to Jesus’ own personal grief.
First, 14:13: “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” Isn’t this our first instinct when we feel loss? When I lost my cousin, who was just six weeks younger than me, I was doing my study abroad in Italy. I was walking to my first class of the day with a friend and my cell rang. It was mom, which was immediately confusing because it would only be about 4 am her time. She told me what happened, and all I could think about was getting away, out of the street where all these people were. I just dropped my stuff and turned back to the apartment. Fortunately my friend was there to gather it all up for me, but I think if I had been alone I would have done the same thing – just focused on getting away as quickly as possible. And that was just a crowded street where no one was seeking me out. I can only imagine how much more Jesus felt the need to have a moment alone when everyone around him is constantly calling his name.
Second, in 14:23: “He went up a mountainside by himself to pray.” Again, he is seeking comfort. Have you ever prayed in sorrow? Even angrily? That totally counts. We don’t know what his words were, if they were angry, or full of loss, or seeking guidance, but I certainly can imagine any or all three of those. Also, I love that he went up a mountainside to pray – into the solace of nature. Sometimes if I’m getting overwhelmed I’ll leave the girls with my husband (or if he’s not here, in front of an Elmo’s World) and just step outside to be alone for a few minutes. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or freezing cold or dark, just being outside and hearing the wind in the trees or looking at the sky seems to help, and it often leads me to prayer. So I love seeing that Jesus seeks out nature as a part of his spiritual practice, as well.
Writing this post, I’ve come to a realization. I’ve only read nine chapters so far, and three of my posts have been about either doubt or grief. Doubt seems like the opposite of faith, but here it is, all over the Bible. Grief is the opposite of joy, something we’re “supposed” to have if we believe in Jesus, but it looks like even Jesus grieves. There are a lot of passages in the Bible (we’ll get to them) that basically say “do not worry” or “stop crying,” and personally I’ve always felt I’ve come up short in my own Faith when I give into doubt or grief, but now I’m beginning to think not so much.
I think God recognizes our human emotions. I use a lot of parenting analogies because God is our Father and also I’m in the thick of small-child parenting, but they work well, so here’s another: I know Marienne is afraid of getting her hair washed. She hates the water over her head. Now, I know that it’s not going to hurt her and there’s nothing to really worry about, but I also recognize her fear as something real to her. I try to help her overcome her fear, but I don’t belittle it. I think that is the lesson we can take away here. It’s not a moral or spiritual shortcoming to have fear, or doubt, or sorrow. God knows our hearts, and is here to show us we do not need to be afraid, but only when we are ready to learn that lesson. Marienne will eventually grow out of hating hair-washing. Maybe one day we’ll all grow out of being doubtful. But both processes are a journey, and there is no need to rush things.
I’m going to bounce back and forth a bit in readings the next week or so. Sunday is still in Advent, so I’ll read Isaiah 8, where Immanuel (another name for Jesus) is listed in prophecy. Then back to Matthew 1 on Wednesday since we’ll officially be in the 12 days of Christmas, then back to Isaiah 9 with another Jesus prophecy. Then on the last Sunday of the year I’ll jump back to Matthew 2, and we’ll have rounded out the early chapters of Matthew.