Because of a devastating blow-through in my life in 2006, I could see the humanity of Jesus in my Gospel reading today. “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” Mt 14:13 –Mt 14:14 (NRSV) Jesus had just been informed of John the Baptist’s untimely, cruel death at the hands of Herod. He then tried to spend time alone grieving that loss. Instead he saw a great crowd in need of healing and filled with compassion, he ministered to them.
My wife of seventeen years died suddenly from a brain aneurysm in April of 2006. A few weeks later I went down to Mississippi to help with the cleanup after Katrina. While there I saw the hand of God working in almost miraculous ways (eg having supplies donated almost at the precise time we needed them). I experienced so many different feelings as I heard the stories, saw the swarms of volunteers and communed with other believers in praise and thanksgiving. My feelings of wanting just to get away and do something were displaced by feelings of joy and usefulness.
The reading and the flashback reminded me of the power of grief to bring our lives to a screeching halt but also how service brings healing when we reach out to others even in times of sorrow.