The Lesson of the Five Thousand

A series of events have coalesced, and I now know the topic of the retreat which I am to give in February. I have been considering several topics, but had not come to a decision. Sometimes we just have to see what God is sending us!

I recently started a spiritual program, and each day there is a reading which I meditate upon. Today’s reading was Mark 6:30-44:

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” He said to them in reply, “Give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out they said, “Five loaves and two fish.” So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass. The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties. Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to (his) disciples to set before the people; he also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish. Those who ate (of the loaves) were five thousand men.

Most people, when reading this passage, focus on the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. What caught my eye was the miracle of the HUNGER of the five thousand. Just imagine the scene: Jesus and his apostles have been working hard, and find themselves at a point of mental exhaustion and need a break. (And THAT situation really strikes home right now, but that is another story.) Jesus says, “Hey, guys, let’s get in the boat and go somewhere where we can rest and get away from the crowds for a while!” So they jump in the boat and begin rowing away. The crowd on the shore sees them pull away and begin running around the lake. Now, Jesus and crew are going in a straight line across the water. The crowd must take the long way around, on foot, watching to see where Jesus is going to land, and STILL manage to beat Jesus to the shore! Now, THAT is desire! THAT is a hunger for what Jesus had to offer! They didn’t know where Jesus was heading, nor did they know how long they would be gone. They dropped what they were doing and went after what they considered most important.

I’ve had a horrendous, horrible, Pluto-orbit stress level, wishing-I-had-the-courage-to-slit-my-wrist week. Fortunately, I picked up a phrase that helped me get through it: “First things first”. Though things are still not settled completely, I made it through by thinking about what I had to do First at Each Moment. Did I need to hold my tongue, control my tongue, or scream in a dark room? Did I need to do this task, do that task, or take a nap? By focusing on what was the most important thing, I dragged myself through the week. I am scarred, battered, and bruised, but I got through it.

The people at the lake also focused on their First Thing. For them, it was the message of hope that Jesus gave them. They lived under Roman occupation, and I’m sure hope was a powerful message for them. I admire their hunger, their drive, their desire for Jesus’ message.

And that brings me to the topic of the retreat (at least, as of today), “Seek Ye First,” from Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

So, I shall begin seeking God first, in what I do. I shall try to emulate the crowd of Jews, racing Jesus around the lake, constantly searching the water with their eyes so as not to lose sight of Him as their ran, tripped, bumped into each other, and ran again, racing around the lake. And, I hope, to meet Jesus on the other side, where he can feed me and care for me in the ways that are important.

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

With practice, I can move closer to being a Mary instead of a Martha.

Hurricane

The winds gathered together and said

“Let’s have some fun!”

They gathered themselves up and began dancing in circles,

Whirling faster and faster!

Spinning, spinning, spinning,

Like young children at play,

The winds gathered themselves up

And pushed, faster, faster, faster!

Screaming out their delight ,

They moved from the water to find new friends.

As they left the waters,

They continued to play,

Kicking around rubbish

Like children on a playground.

The trees were jealous of their movement,

And wanted to be free, to move like the wind.

They called out to the wind,

And wanted to dance with them.

They began bobbing and weaving

With the wind.

“Faster!” the wind cried out,

Spinning ever more quickly.

The sun hid its face

As the wind more swiftly flew,

And the trees threw their leaves in anger,

Straining to be released from the ground.

Twisting, bending, stretching, reaching out!

Shaking themselves in frustration,

And in their frustration they bent themselves down

And shuddered as their boughs cracked with the strain.

Alas! Freedom was not theirs

And the wind howled with laughter

Until tears fell in torrents,

And were lashed about wildly

As the delirium ran unabated.

“Faster!” the winds cried, howling into the darkness,

And the trees again tried to gain their freedom.

And when roots finally released from terra firma,

They found their freedom was for naught

As the released captive fell to the ground,

Still straining to join the wind in its wild revelry.

Finally, the winds tired of their game and moved on,

Leaving the trees sighing in the waning breezes,

Counting their broken limbs and lost greenery,

Surveying their dying brothers.

“If only,” they said sadly to each other.

“If only.”

And the winds spent themselves,

Dropping tears in exhaustion upon the earth,

Their dancing slowly fading away,

Until only a small whisper was left,

Tickling the leaf of one last shrub,

Far from where the frenzy began…

“Maybe next time,” it sighed,

And rested.