We disciples were so tired.
We hadn’t always been so tired. When Jesus sent us out into the world two by two we were thrilled.
Jesus gave us power. Real power, over unclean sprits. We could feel the energy shoot through our arms when we practiced healing the sick exorcising demons. Peter in particular, loved to find a good demon possessed person. He loved the loud whoosh as he sent the demon flying.
When Jesus sent us out, we knew we were up for the challenge. We might have been nobodies, fishermen and tax collectors, but now we had God on our side! We had the magic touch.
We strutted into a nearby town and knocked boldly on a door. It was slammed in our faces. We tried again and again and eventually a desperate mom with a sick daughter let us in to her home. The back room was dark. We could barely make out this tiny girl lying on a pallet. Suddenly, all our bravado was gone. This mother didn’t care about how powerful we were, she just wanted her daughter well. We held the girl’s hand and prayed more desperately than we ever had. In front of our eyes, the girl sat up, took a deep breath, and looked around disoriented for a minute. When she saw her mother she ran to her and held on to her skirts. She was perfectly healthy, just a little unnerved by two strange men in her house.
From then on, things were different. We healed so many people. You wouldn’t believe the problems people had. Boils, blindness, leprosy, bad legs, lung diseases, any disfigurement you could imagine. For days we did this, walking and healing; walking and healing. Our strutting turned to dragging feet. We were physical guys, but this was different. We could haul fishing nets all day long, but fish don’t break your heart.
Eventually, it was time to go back to meet Jesus. We made our goodbyes and dragged ourselves back to him. We were so glad to see the other disciples. Even Peter looked like the wind had been taken out of his sails a bit. We just wanted some time to decompress. Jesus took one look at our bedraggled condition and immediately started leading us away to get some rest.
We got on the boat together and began to cross over. Before we landed we could hear a weird buzz. As we pulled in closer, the buzzing turned into the sound of human voices. Hundreds of human voices. On the shore were thousands of people as pitiful as the ones we had been healing. Sad people, sick people, desperate people. As soon as we got off the boat, their hands were on us, tugging, pushing. People were climbing on top of one another just to put a hand on Jesus.
We kept expecting Jesus to get us out of there—to lead us away, but he didn’t. Your lectionary may leave this out, but what Jesus did next was just infuriating. He did not ask the crowd to leave, he didn’t find a private place for us to connect. What did he do? He invited the crowd—we are talking thousands of people—to sit down and eat! That’s right, instead of giving us a retreat, suddenly he was expecting us to be waiters to a crowd of what must have been 5000 people!
This is how he was—no matter where we were, no matter how closely we needed to keep to a schedule, no matter what our original plan was, Jesus just couldn’t stand to see a hurting person.
I can’t describe adequately how overwhelming this was. Once Jesus got really famous, everywhere we went, he was surrounded. We were surrounded. Hundreds of people every day asking things of him. Hundreds of people every day begging him to change their lives. It was like a plague of hope. People who had been resigned to their lives for the first time thought there was a real chance that their lives might change. That hope turned them into fierce, dogged, relentless pursuers of Jesus.
And Jesus loved them. Even as they crowded us, and stepped on our toes, and ruined our plans, he felt only compassion for them.
But here’s the dirty secret. Jesus couldn’t heal everyone. Not because his healings were ineffective, not because he was unwilling. No, the sheer numbers were just overwhelming. For every hundred people he saw and healed, there were another hundred, two hundred, a thousand who showed up too late, or on the wrong day, or stood a little too far back in the crowd.
The crowds were like tidal waves, and Jesus could only deal with a bucket at a time.
And even once he gave us powers for healing and exorcising demons, we weren’t able to pick up the slack. We did our best, but keeping up with the demand would have required an army of thousands.
Jesus never seemed anxious about this. As much as his gut wrenched when he saw a particularly wounded soul, he never experienced despair.
We disciples were exhausted and discouraged, but Jesus just got more and more determined.
At the time, of course, we did not understand the big picture. We saw how he poured himself out for these strangers, but we never could have predicted his end game.
We thought we needed more of him, more like him, or for him to work harder or more creatively, or to deputize more people.
Instead, Jesus walked toward Jesusalem. Jesus handed himself over to the insecure, grasping, anxious hands of the enemy. The healer of the wounded became wounded himself. He threw himself towards death and despair. He poured himself out, completely. We were devastated.
And then, that third day. That third day, everything changed. When he rose from the dead and showed himself to us, we finally got it. In order to heal every person in the world, those in the world during his life time, and those after, Jesus had to change the rules. Jesus needed to die so he could defeat death and all the suffering that comes along with it. He needed to go to the source of the pain and the horror and trample it under his feet. Human suffering might have been a tidal wave, but he was the Son of the One who created the oceans in the first place. There was no limit to how far he was willing to go to bring healing to humankind.
We disciples knew what it was to be around Jesus, the living God. We knew what it was like to be loved, to be healed, to share meals with the creator of the universe, come to earth. In his death and resurrection, Jesus did more than bring healing to humankind, Jesus transformed the relationship between his Father and his Father’s creation. Now all people could share the same intimacy with Jesus that we did. Every Sunday across the planet, people share a meal with Jesus, much like the final meal he had with us.
Jesus shares himself with you, just as he shared himself with the crowds. No matter how broken and needy you are, Jesus longs to heal you. No matter how hungry your spirit is, Jesus longs to feed you. No matter how lost you are, Jesus longs to be your shepherd.
We disciples knew Jesus for a few years, but you have your whole lives to get to know him. But be careful, before you know it, you’ll be dropping your fishing nets and following him to the ends of the earth. Getting to know Jesus is a risk, but trust me, it is a risk worth taking.