Last week we looked at several parables in which Jesus showed us pictures of the Kingdom of Heaven and what it looks like at work in the world around us. Today we have two more snapshots of the kingdom, not in the form of parables, but in the form of two incidents in the life of Jesus.
First of all let us begin by taking note that Jesus is human. The passage begins with Jesus withdrawing. Jesus like us needs a break from time to time, he needs space to catch his breath, and like so many of us there are times when he needs a break from other people. This is one of several times throughout the gospels when Jesus actively pulls away from the crowd and away from people to replenish himself, to get some space and some time away from it all. John the Baptist, his cousin has recently died and he needs to get away, he needs a break, he needs to be by himself.
There are times in all of our lives when we need to take the time and the space to get away from others. We need to find a quiet place to rejuvenate ourselves, some down so that we can recharge, refocus; take some deep breaths so that we can face the world around us again. Some of us need this kind of time daily and that is ok. Jesus needed time like this as well.
Jesus does not get the down time he needs on this particular day, on this particular day when we tries to get away a crowd follows him and meets him in his alone place. And Jesus chooses not to find another alone place or to send them away, instead he has compassion on them and their needs and chooses to meet their needs.
But then as the day draws on but before Jesus is finished, the disciples realize that they are all way out in a deserted place without food for all these people. They want to send them away, but Jesus tells them to get the people something to eat. So they come together and see what they have among them. In Matthew there is no small boy with his lunch. (That is in John’s gospel) Here Jesus asks his disciples to feed the crowd, so the disciples look at what they have among them. All they have is fives loaves of bread and two fish. They tell Jesus what they have and Jesus instructs them to give it all to him. He has everyone sit down, he blesses the small meal and gave it to the disciples and the disciples feed the crowd of well over 5,000 (when you include the women and children) with the fish and loaves with plenty to spare.
And then our passage goes on. After this, before nightfall, Jesus instructs the disciples to dismiss the crowds. He then has them get into a boat to head out a across the lake without him. Jesus, after a devastating blow, and a long day, is finally able to be alone. Jesus is now able get that rest he so desperately needed. Although Jesus had compassion on the people and did not send them away when he needed some time and some space by himself, he does not hesitate (Matthew tells us he does so immediately) to create a situation in which he will be able to get the rest he needs. He is finally able to take the time he needs to process the death of his cousin, to be alone to mourn for a while, to be able to rest and recuperated from ALL that has been going on.
Even when life comes crowding in around us and we find that our much needed time of rest and rejuvenation is interrupted with the important needs of others, that does not mean that we must continually sacrifice ourselves, we need to work, as immediately as possible to give ourselves the time and the space we need. And we may have to be aggressive about it, Jesus sends everyone away, he dismisses the crowd and puts his disciples on a boat and sends them away, actively creating a situation when he will finally be able to be alone. When you need this kind of time, it is ok to actively create that space in your life. It might mean that you need to remove yourself from those around you and go off by yourself, or it might mean that you need to send others away, but either way, Jesus’ example shows us that it ok to do this.
So as it grows dark, once the disciples are way out in the middle of the sea in the boat, Jesus decides it is time to join his disciples, so he goes out to them on the turbulent sea, walking on the water in order to get out there. The disciples don’t know who it is or what to think, so they assume it must be some kind of apparition, a ghost! And are justifiably afraid, but Jesus calls to them, telling not to be afraid.
Peter then asks if he can come out to Jesus on the water and Jesus invites Peter to join him. So Peter jumps out of the boat but becomes frightened when he realizes what he is doing and exactly how scary this is and begins to sink. And Jesus asks him why he doubted, if Peter has an answer to that question it is not recorded in scripture, nor is any conversation they must have had as they walk together back to the boat and climb in. The disciples know what to do at this point; they worship him and declare Jesus to be the Son of God.
Jesus has just given us another picture of the kingdom in these two scenarios. And it is because of what they had seen through the course of that day that causes the disciples to come to this realization. But what about the events of that day gave them this realization? They had seen Jesus perform miracles before. This is not the first time they have seen Jesus do something beyond explanation, it is not even the first time they have seen him heal people. So what about the events of this particular day allow them to see Jesus clearly?
Jesus does two things. He provides food in the desert and he makes a path through the water. There is one particular time in scripture when food is provided in the desert and a path is made through the water. These are the miracles of the Exodus.
When God was leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt toward the promise land, God provided them with food in the desert. Then when their way was blocked by the sea, God made a path for them through the water. The ability to provide for the people to give them bread and fish to mirror the manna and quail of their sojourn in the desert and then make a way through the sea, are miracles of God. One of the ways Israel knows their God is as the God who provides food in the wilderness and a path through the sea.
On the exact same day, Jesus provides food to a crowd and then makes a way in the sea and also makes that same way for Peter to come out to him on the water and return to the boat along with him. When Jesus steps into the boat he has exhibited the power of the one and only living God of the universe. The person they see step into the boat that night is not just some miracle worker, he is not just a well-spoken and radical rabbi here to teach the people about God, he is the Son of God. He is sent by God, and comes with the power of God in hand, the ability to provide bread and the ability to make a way in the water. The One who steps into the boat is not merely the traveling companion with whom they had come out in the boat earlier that day, he is the Son of God and they worship him as such. The man they have known for so long is so much more than they could have dreamed or imagined.
Right now on Facebook, it is popular to take an old picture, perhaps of you and your siblings from your childhood and then recreate the same picture over again now, many years later, now that you all are much older. Everyone is in the same pose, making the same facial expression, perhaps even in similar clothes and you all are on the same couch that still sits in your mother’s living room, or on the lawn in front of your childhood home. They are a sort of “then and now” pictures. That was us then, this is us now.
The picture we have of the Kingdom, that we have before us this morning, is a “then and now” picture, much like the ones that are popular on the internet. Jesus is recreating an all too familiar snap shot of God that would have been all too familiar to the disciples, the God they met through Moses when God sought them out to free them from slavery. So when Jesus gets into the boat that night, they are able to see the God of the Exodus there in the boat with them.
The God of the Exodus is the same God who is Jesus Christ. The God of provision, the God who gave them exactly what they needed each day, is there with them in the boat. Suddenly when the disciples see Jesus they see echoed in him the story of the manna and the quail. In Jesus they have what they need and even more. They have abundance. In this snap shot we not only see a God as one who gives exactly what is needed, we also see a God who goes above and beyond our expectations, who provides plenty when there is little and fills us to overflowing when find that we are dry.
When we are tired, when we are care worn, when we are in the desert and hungry, God is there giving us what we need and more. God does not send us away. God will satisfy, and fill us to over flowing. In Jesus we have exactly what we need, the comfort we need, the care we need, the strength we need and more. Jesus is always about the “more” the full to overflowing, about making sure we have leftovers to share, so that we never have to feel like we never have enough, even enough to share.
It is important to remember this is the disciples’ lunch Jesus is giving away. Jesus is asking them to give away their own lunch to feed this crowd. And where the lunch would probably have just been enough for them, Jesus extends that lunch and allows it to feed all who had gathered there. But not only that, there was plenty left over. They had enough to take some on the boat with them to provide dinner for them, as well as any who was on the boat with them. Not only did they have enough, they had plenty, not only did they have plenty, but they had abundance; enough to take some home with them.
But not only is Jesus the God of the manna and the quail, but he is also the God of the water crossing. Jesus is the God of provision AND the God who makes a way when there literally is no road. Jesus can command nature in such a way that he can reform the shape of the landscape to make a road in a place no one else would not only dare to walk but where it is actually impossible to walk and then he allows for us to join him there, makes a way for us to walk alongside him where there is no path, or way for us, where without him, if we even look focus on him, we would fail to walk. Jesus can transform nature to make a way where there is no way, and call us to himself, where it is impossible to follow. With Jesus we can do the impossible. When we follow Jesus there is a way, where there is no way, because he transforms the world around us to allow us to go to all the places he calls us to go.
There is actually one more detail of the Exodus story which is revealed in Jesus here. Not only is the manna and the quail and the water crossing echoed in the actions of Jesus on this day, but also the first “gift” God gave to the people after they left Egypt. One of the first things God did for the Israelites after they left the lives of slavery in Egypt was God gave them the gift of rest. God told them there would be manna and quail for six day, then on the sixth day they should collect enough for two days, because on the seventh was for them to rest. There would be no manna and quail to gather, so that they could take a break from all work, all struggle all that exhausted and expended them, so they like God, who rested on the seventh day of creation could take the time and space they needed to rest. God made space in their lives for them to get away from the work and the stress of the week which can press in around you as real as any crowd. In Jesus here we see the God of rest. Jesus’ first attempt at time away and rest may have been thwarted by the very real needs and cares of others but he still takes time to rest, to get away and give himself the space he needed, to think, to pray, to mourn, to gain comfort in God, to take a nap. We don’t know what rest looked like to Jesus but we see here that it is important enough for Jesus that he eventually sent everyone away so that he could provide for his own needs as well as the needs of others.
In Jesus here we see God. We see the God who provides as well as the God who commands nature. We see the God who fills us to overflowing as well as the God who allows for impossible paths to become the road down which we will follow. We see a snapshot the kingdom, on in which our needs are met, one in which there is plenty, in which we are filled to overflowing. We also see the God of the universe who can shape the world around us, who can make a way in the water, a path on the sea. We see the God who allows for us to follow no matter how impossible it may see, if Jesus tells us to come, then the impossible becomes possible and the sea becomes as firm as dry land. We can go to any place Christ calls for us to go, because Jesus is the all-terrain God who makes a way in, through and over everything.
And Jesus is the God of rest, the God who calls for us to rest and models for us self-care. Jesus found time to be alone, no he created time and space to be alone, so he could take care of himself in his own time of need. It is not selfish to need time to mourn. It is not selfish to need time to rest. It is not selfish to need time alone. Jesus needed all these things and he sent everyone away so that he could have this time of rest. Rest is a Godly thing, Taking time to rest, to take care of yourself when you are struggling, suffering, sick, mourning, is literally Christ-like. We should never feel ashamed of this need, or feel that to take the time and space we need to rest, rejuvenate, to heal, to gain strength in body and mind, in alone time, is selfish. It is what Christ would do, and did do in the same situation.