Jesus simply wants to be alone. His cousin, John the Baptist has been killed by Herod, and Jesus needs some time to himself. But the crowds are persistent and follow Jesus even as he seeks a few moments of solitude. Remarkably, rather than being angry or annoyed, Jesus once again responds with compassion and heals those who are sick. But then the disciples approach Jesus and ask him to send the crowds away "to go into the villages and buy food for themselves."
Once again, the words of N.T. Wright are extremely helpful in understanding the true wonder of this story, so I offer them as today's reflection:
Jesus is always delighted when people around him come up with ideas which show that they're thinking of the needs of others. But often what he has to do is to take those ideas and do something startling with them. If you really care for them, he says, why don't you give them something to eat? This is, perhaps, the typical note of vocation. Our small idea of how to care for people gets bounced back at us with what seems a huge and impossible proposal. You protest. I can't do it! I haven't got the time. I haven't got the energy. I haven't got the ability. All I have is...
Ah, but that's the next step! Imagine yourself standing there, while Jesus, surrounded by thousands of people, takes this pitifully small amount of food, hardly enough for two people, let alone a crowd, and prays over it. He thanks God for it. He breaks it, and gives it to you and the others, and you give it to ... one person after another after another, without knowing what's happening or how.
Think through how this happened. Being close to Jesus has turned into the thought of service; Jesus takes the thought, turns it inside out, and gives it back to you as a challenge. This is how it works whenever someone is close enough to Jesus to catch a glimpse of what he's doing and how they could help. We blunder in with our ideas. We offer, uncomprehending, what little we have. Jesus takes ideas, loaves and fishes, money, a sense of humor, time, energy, talents, love, artistic gifts, skills with words, quickness of eye or fingers, whatever we have to offer. He holds them before his father with prayer and blessing. Then, breaking them so they are ready for use, he gives them back to us to give to those who need them.
What seemingly small, insignificant gift do you have to offer God today? Allow God to take those gifts, however small, and he will bless them and break them, so that they can be given back to you to give away!