Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jesus' Time Management

Image source.

Upon learning about John the Baptist's death, Jesus goes off to "a solitary place," according to Matthew 14:13-36. He probably wants some alone time because wow, a really messed-up thing happened and it's not okay, and he needs to grieve/pray/question the goodness of God (maybe?).

But a huge crowd of people found out where Jesus was. And "when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick." Did he feel like, "oh geez, I have to deal with this right now? Well I'm Jesus so I have to stop and help them... ah man..." or did he actually want to help the sick people? Because, you know, we all feel like that sometimes, right? Someone really needs help, and oh man it's just not a good time at all but you know it's the right thing and you have to...

I'm not sure how I feel about Jesus thinking helping people is such a drag...

So then we get to the part about the feeding of the "5000." I have no idea why Jesus first told his disciples (who had only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish) to feed them all. Please discuss in the comments section.

So Jesus takes the loaves and fish and somehow there's magically more, enough for everyone, with leftovers. Let's talk about that. Did that food just materialize out of nothing? What DNA did the fish have? Isn't it kind of creepy that Jesus created a fish that had never even been alive? Were the new loaves and fish just copies of the original ones?

Did the new fish and loaves bear evidence of things that never happened? Like a flat spot on the side of the loaf that had rested on the pan during cooking- except there never was a cooking. Or food in the stomach of the fish and oxygen in its blood.

Were these new fish and loaves really just like real ones, or would there be some test that would expose them as having just popped into existence? Why would God go to all the trouble of making a 100% lifelike fake fish if it was just going to be eaten 2 minutes later?

Also I'll just leave this here: Last Thursdayism. Okay now we can go on to the next part of the passage.

Image source.

Matthew writes, "The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children." And wouldn't it be great if he had written that in a different, non-sexist way. But oh well.

So in the next part, Jesus finally gets some alone time, and he goes up on a mountain to pray. Ah man I want to do that.

And when he's done, it's the middle of the night, and the disciples are all in a boat in the middle of the lake. Because Jesus told them to go. So wait, he planned it this way. He wanted to walk on water.

That's a little odd. You'd think Jesus would have a good reason for doing every miracle he did. This one just seems like he did it because THAT'S SO FREAKIN' COOL! I mean if you could walk on water, you would do it just for fun too, right?

Was it to show his power over nature and impress the disciples? Maybe? Was it because this was the most convenient way for him to get his alone time?

And at first the disciples are terrified. Because, obvious reasons. And then Peter asks Jesus to ask him to also walk on water, and there must be some sort of cultural thing I'm missing there, because "if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water" doesn't make much sense to me, at least as a way to find out if it really is Jesus.

But it's pretty cool that Peter got to do that.

And when he panicked, Jesus called him "you of little faith," but he had more faith/guts/impulsiveness than the other people who stayed in the boat.

And when the boat landed, another massive crowd came with their sick people, and Jesus healed them too. Again, I wonder if it was like a chore or he actually wanted to.

Image source.

Okay those are my thoughts as I read Matthew 14:13-36. Now to try and pull out some "take-home message"...

I've heard Christians say isn't it great how Jesus, even though he was kind of emotionally exhausted, still took time to heal those sick people. And we should do that too.

But Jesus also took time for himself. When he went up on the mountain to pray, was it because there were no more sick people in the world? Isn't it a little selfish to take time for himself when there are people in need out there?

In this passage, Jesus spends quality time with crowds of strangers, with his disciples, and alone. All of these are important.

But... are they really all important? Wouldn't it be better for him to just run around healing all the sick people he could get his hands on?

And wouldn't it be better for me to never ever buy anything nice so I could donate all my money to help people who don't have clean water?

Jesus took time for himself. Of course he spent tons of time helping people, but he also took time just for himself. Where is the balance? And where is the balance for other things like how much money I should give away? Maybe the answer is different for each person.

Maybe it's something to think about and pray about, and there's no "right answer."

Discussion questions:
Any ideas on how that whole materializing-food-from-nowhere worked?
Why did Jesus walk on water?
How do we find a balance between taking care of our own needs and helping others?
Any other cool observations about this passage? I'm sure I missed a lot of stuff.


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Pro Tip: Beheading People is Wrong (Matthew 14:1-12)

Next post: But where's your Scripture to back that up, Jesus? (Matthew 15:1-20)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.


  1. I think the feeding of the 5,000 is a great example of why taking the Bible literally doesn't make a lot of sense. I read this story as more of a parable: "The Kingdom of God is like this. We thought there was only enough food for ourselves, but Jesus showed us that when we trust God and share what we have, there is more than enough for everyone." It's not that Jesus literally created more fish and bread out of thin air (which has all the puzzling problems you mentioned) but that what he did was LIKE that in terms of amazing the disciples and fulfilling the people. A few years ago I explained what I've learned about giving away more money than I thought I could afford, a similar issue.

    Both feeding the 5,000 and walking on water also are reminders that this physical reality is not the REAL thing, that there is More beyond what we perceive most of the time from our limited human perspective. I had some insight on this when my kid questioned the Resurrection and the existence of atoms in the same week.

    As for time management, I think this is one of the things Jesus had to grapple with in his earthly life just like all the rest of us do. Part of being human is being trapped in time. I get impatient when people say Jesus was perfect and never made a bad decision or felt any negative feelings--to me it's obvious, and it's one of the most powerful things about the Gospels, that living as a limited human was pretty tough on Jesus and he often struggled with it, and this is one of the reasons that his coming to be human with us for a while was such a sacrifice and act of love, and this is one of the reasons he understands our struggles with this life and can forgive us for screwing up.

  2. Hmm, I've never considered the idea that it's not literal. Maybe you're right. I've always read the bible like it's literal, until recently when I found out a lot of bible experts say it's not, and compare it to other stuff written back then. (And I'm glad I found out about that, because some stories make a lot more sense when you don't have to puzzle over the physical mechanics of how it could happen.)

    But I'm still not comfortable with saying the accounts about Jesus aren't literal, so, I'll think about it more.

  3. And about Jesus living as a human and being limited- that's a really good point.

  4. I have thought for several years now that maybe the miracle wasn't that Jesus MADE the loaves and fish, but that the people there actually did have their own food, they just didn't think they had enough to share and wanted to make sure they had some, so they didn't come forward. But the little boy did, and seeing that made them want to share too, so fish and loaves started just randomly coming out of people's pockets as they donated to the communal meal too. I don't know if there's any biblical backing for this at all, but I know people, and people don't like to share if they think they won't have enough for themselves.

  5. First of all, I love that you are reading the Bible, being honest with your questions, and putting your processing out there to do with others. I wish more Christians would do this! I think this is how all of us learn and grow. It's less about what we hear in sermons and more about the grappling we do in our own hearts.

    Second, for what it's worth, here are some of my thoughts:

    The Greek word for "compassion" has the idea of being moved deeply in your gut. (Like, when you really have to go to the bathroom...) It doesn't have the feeling like it was a drag, but like Jesus was filled with such love for people that no matter what his plans would have been, he had to change them in order to help the people he loved who were now in his presence. I think Jesus throughout his ministry shows a great capacity for being interrupted (like when he is teaching and men lower someone from the roof!), and not getting annoyed, but responding in love.

    The writing conventions and numbering conventions at the time the Bible was written wouldn't have included women and children at all. So I think the writer is actually trying to NOT be sexist by pointing out that women and children were there and not counted, instead of just pretending they weren't there at all, like the just naming the number itself would have done. (I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt...)

    I think it's interesting that throughout his ministry Jesus works so hard to not do miracles. People are following him everywhere asking him to do more things like walk on water and create fish and heal. Like he's a magician who should be at their beck and call for all the cool parlor tricks. And he says over and over that's not why he came.

    Because though feeding people is a good thing, and healing people is a good thing, he wanted to teach. He wanted to tell us about forgiveness and grace and the kingdom of God and helping the poor. Because this wasn't just about Jesus and His powers, it was about Jesus and His death and His resurrection and how He was asking people to believe in Him and follow in His footsteps.

    And even in the way He withdrew to pray, He is showing us the balance between His words to be a light and help others and do, do, do, with something else He said: we are loved. As we are, right now, if we do nothing else good for the rest of our lives, we are loved unconditionally. We need to know that God desires these actions from us not so that we will be loved, but out of an outflow of the love we already have. He wants intimacy with humanity, and Jesus, as a human, is demonstrating to us how important that is to our souls.

    (And yes, it is weird to think about fish appearing out of nowhere. Jesus did that at other times, too, but in the lake. Which seems less weird than in a basket. But, for the creator of all things, it doesn't seem too hard I suppose.)

  6. Cool, thanks for commenting. :) Good point about Jesus' compassion. And that back then, being sexist was normal and the writer was actually doing better than average.