His disciples came and took away the body [of John the Baptist] and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
When Jesus heard it, he went away from there in a boat to a deserted spot by himself. The crowds heard it, and followed him on foot from the towns. When he came out and saw the large crowd, he was sorry for them. He healed their sick. (14:12-14)
I have always been amazed by these few verses. How did Jesus do it?
His cousin has just been murdered. Were Jesus and John close? Let’s imagine they were. A murderous tyrant has just rounded up his beloved cousin simply because John was the fly in Herod’s ointment of immorality. Surely Jesus was sad; his next action was to go off on his own to a deserted spot. Was Jesus also wondering if he would be next? If Herod can round up one revolutionary, couldn’t he round up another?
What is clear is that the last thing Jesus wants to do right now is minister to the masses. He just wants to be on his own in prayer and mourning.
But the crowds won’t allow it. They follow after him regardless, and bring their sick in need of healing. Jesus just can’t get a break.
It is what Jesus did next that rocks my own selfish world: “He was sorry for them. He healed their sick.” Jesus responded with love. Then his compassion even drove him to do one of his most famous miracles: the feeding of the 5000. Five thousand men and their women and children too — likely a number well over 10,000 or 15,000 — went away that day filled, healthy, and amazed.
This causes a new side to this juxtaposition of stories to jump out at me. A sad and possibly apprehensive Jesus has just found an immediate following of 5000 men. That could make quite a riot. Jesus could work this crowd against Herod. If nothing else, Jesus could find protection in the midst of such a following, but maybe he could storm a palace too. Did vengeance for John’s death ever enter Jesus’ mind?
Instead, Jesus “dismissed the crowd” (14:22) and left the area. There will be no armed revolt today.
Let there be no mistake: Jesus was a revolutionary, but of a different kind entirely. Jesus brought the original Love Revolution. The way of power and blood would be overcome by the way of love. The hunger that exists in any kingdom run by opportunistic leaders like Herod would be overcome for a day in a most abundant way. The self-focus of the crowds would be met with love and compassion. Love would lead to a revolution of hearts.
My wife has a mantra that I believe she learned from her mother. When you are sad and down, get busy helping others and you will see your own sorrows lessen.
Jesus had every reason to be alone and mourn. Still, he was willing to be inconvenienced for love.