I was just out of college when a boy I knew growing up was killed during a robbery at the Radio Shack where he worked. I had not seen him for many years. He was not a part of my daily life. I have to admit that as young teenagers, we did not get along. But Al was part of the fabric of my early years. His older sister babysat my little brother and me, and their father worked with our father, and I spent a lot of time at their house. Al’s death left a shocking hole in the tapestry of the life I knew, threatening my sense of who was safe and who was not. And so despite the distance in time and relationship I had to take more than a moment, to remember Al, to pray for his family, and to consider my own life.
Jesus withdrew to do the same thing, feeling depleted and shocked, bound to be considering his own mortality. John, who prepared the way for him, had been murdered as part of a palace plot, beheaded as the prize requested by a young girl at her mother’s instigation. King Herod let it happen because he felt ashamed and embarrassed by his life and the truth John told him about it.
Jesus heard this terrible news about a barbaric death, and he needed to get away. Perhaps he felt he had nothing to give, but the people followed and somehow he found what they needed, although his own tank needed filling.
In my usually safe neighborhood, we woke one summer morning to find someone had tried to siphon gas from our cars. The latch on a neighbor’s fuel hatch was broken, and although mine is electronic, the digital message I saw when I got in the car let me know someone had been fooling with it. I asked the neighbor how much gas they could have gotten, and he told me, “Not much, I was running on empty.”
I wonder how many people who followed Jesus that day felt the same way: empty, a little desperate, willing to trust a guy who was popular with crowds but had come out of nowhere to attract so much attention.
And I wonder about Jesus, emptied out by shock and sadness, yet moved by compassion to help those who needed what he could give. I think of him, moving through grief to heal others. I think of him, touching people who needed filling, not just with fish and bread, but with hope. It is the hope we receive when we share the broken bread and the outpoured cup. That tank is never on empty.
I’m proud to be among a great group of writers who contributed to Abingdon’s Creative Preaching Annual for 2014 (also the recently published 2015 edition as well as the forthcoming version for 2016). This is one of a series of essays of mine for the book; I’ll be posting them as they come up in the Revised Common Lectionary. You can get a paperback copy at the link above or buy the book for your Kindle here.