From the time I was a kid, I knew the story of the five loaves and two fishes. However, it wasn’t until recently as I re-read Matthew 14 that I really took note of the context in which Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The first half of Matthew 14 tells the horrifying story of John the Baptist’s murder, and how the disciples took his body and buried it and then brought the news to Jesus.
In response to the news, Jesus leaves by a ship into a desert place. But as he goes, the people follow him on foot out of their cities.
And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick./And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals./ But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
For all my life, when I have eaten so eagerly of the parable, I had never stopped to consider that the miracle was born of what must have been one of Jesus’ most lonely and sad mortal hours. The loss of his cousin could not have been slight, could not have been anything less than devastating. Jesus’ initial reaction to jump on a ship and get to a place where he might mourn and pray alone seems appropriate, but there is always a yet.
If I have learned anything about being Christlike, it is that there is always a yet. And yet, when Christ saw the multitude, he did not turn his ship the other way, or tell the crowd he could no longer do the work he was called to do, he faced them with a compassion that is staggering in the face of what he must have been feeling.
It seems that whole day He was with the people, healing, teaching and being with them even long into the evening when it was very clear that the peaceful and quiet place He had set to find was filled with people, and people who were hungry and without food at that. The disciples, no doubt with empathy and concern wanted to send the people away, likely to give Christ a moment to properly mourn. Christ’s words in response then are eight of the most compassionate and selfless words I have ever heard as He says “They need not depart; give them to eat.”
I wonder if the people of the multitude sensed the sacredness from whence their meal came, if they knew how much easier it would have been to send them home. Christ would certainly have been justified in stepping inside his anguish to let the people fend for themselves, and yet, He did not. He gave them to eat, and not just a little, but until they were full.
The way the most painful moments of Christ’s mortal life intersect with some of his most beautiful miracles is a poignant reminder to me that I too might expect to experience some of the same, both of the sadness and of the power of miracle.
In these past six months as a Mormon I have felt a heavy weight as the institution I am a member of has not given refuge to people like Tyler Glenn, or countless other LGBTQ members, as half of my dearest friends have left the church we grew up in together, as leaders have made insensitive remarks about their leaving, as BYU has shown up in headlines, and as I’ve encountered real sting in my personal life in ways I have not before.
But then I think of Christ sailing out on a ship alone after the news of his cousin, carrying a crushing sadness I cannot begin to understand and have experienced nothing of the like, and my heart shifts within me as I think of Him putting His pain aside not only to minister to a multitude, but saying “They need not depart; give them to eat.”
I am saddened by the pain that so many have felt in these past six months since the November policy. In my own world and in my own way, I have felt it acutely as well. Until recently, I did not know the miracles that seemed most beautiful to me in the life of Christ came directly in the middle of, in fact, in interruption to real sorrow in His life.
I am most certainly the receiver of loaves and fishes, I always have been, but to be more cognizant of the circumstances surrounding those loaves and fishes makes me both a more tender receiver of the miracle, and also a believer that I can have charity enough to perform miracles of my own, even on the most difficult of days.