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The Power of Service

August 3, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause

August 3, 2014
Matthew 14:13-21
Fr. George Smiga

An important aspect of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes is its connection to the events of Jesus’ life. Matthew provides that connection for us at the beginning of today’s gospel. He says, “When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”

Now Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist was a deep one. John was an inspiration and a model for Jesus’ own ministry. So when Jesus heard of the violent murder of John by King Herod, it was a deep blow. Jesus decided to withdraw to a deserted place to grieve his loss. This reaction by Jesus shows his true humanity, but it also stands for all the times in our lives when we have to absorb a deep loss or carry a heavy burden. It could be, as it was for Jesus, the loss of someone in death. But it could also be a fractured relationship because of divorce or misunderstanding, the consequence of a disastrous decision made by ourselves or someone we love, or a turn in our own health that reduces our abilities and leads to fear. When such blows and burdens come to us, we want to be alone. We need time to heal. Like Jesus, we desire to withdraw to a place by ourselves.

But the gospel goes on from here. Although Jesus wanted to be alone, the crowds followed him on foot. Although he desired time to heal, the needs of others were great. They wanted to be cured. They wanted to be fed. So when Jesus disembarks from the boat, he sees a vast crowd. He would have every right to say, “Are you kidding me? Don’t these people know what I am dealing with? I need time by myself to grieve my loss.” Yet Jesus did not exercise the right that was his. Instead, he was moved with pity. He cured their sick and fed them with the loaves and the fishes.

Jesus reacted in this way because he was committed to his ministry. But also, on a deep human level, Jesus understood that sometimes the best way to heal our losses and carry our burdens is by reaching out in service to others. When life strikes us with a blow, we have every right to withdraw and lick our wounds. But that consolation has a time limit. If we withdraw for too long, our solace can become isolation and our comfort can become unhealthy. But when we reach out and share our gifts with others, we not only help them but we also learn that despite our loss we still have something to contribute, we still have a future.

So if you are grieving, if you are hurting, if you feel empty and unloved, depressed or alone, you can withdraw and reflect. But be quick to reach out. Ask yourself, “What can I give?” There is a real power in helping another person, and that power can raise us above our losses and our burdens.

Even though he was dealing with the loss of John the Baptist, Jesus fed thousands in the wilderness. Our willingness to reach out of our pain to help others might not be as grand a gesture as Jesus’. But it is still true compassion for our neighbor and healing for us. And that, in its own way, is a miracle.

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