When Jesus heard this

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
— Matthew 14:15-16

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place (v.13).” Wait. When Jesus heard what? …how Herod had orchestrated John the Baptist’s execution.

The Herod at play here is not to be confused with his father, also named Herod, who tried to nip the Jesus thing in the bud by killing all of the infant boys in around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).

Herod Antipas rules Galilee at the time of our text: He will be among those whom Jesus faces when tried and executed.

He’ll have a son named…Herod (Herod Agrippa I). That son will have a son named…Herod (Agrippa II). Eventually the family will fall from grace.

Except these guys do not live lives patterned by grace. Nor do they rule in such a way that Jesus can host an alternative banquet without ruffling their feathers.

At Herod’s banquet, a person is executed. At this other one, people will be fed. At Herod’s party, people eat food that in effect asks, who’s your daddy? In a field near Bethesda, people will eat food that finds them as pure gift. Around Herod’s table, people dance to please power. Around God’s, the needs of the powerless are met.

Read the verses that precede these and you won’t have to take my word for it. Feeding 5,000 people is miraculous, yes, and also risky business. Where people are supposed to see the empire’s men as their provider and protector, one is wise to put their compassion to rest and “stay out of it”.

Which is exactly what the disciples intend to do. The twelve may think that it’s either their teacher’s job to work miracles or the hungry folks’ job to take care of themselves. Jesus, however, refuses to take their lack of imagination seriously.

Say the disciples: The crowd can go and buy food for themselves. No, says Jesus. “You give them something eat (vv. 15-16).”

^^^These are words never uttered by the Herods then nor now. Maybe that is why they, the Herods, are still at large and up to no good. The fullness of our response-ability is hard to imagine and even harder to embrace.


Rachel May