After these things, Jesus departed through the Sea of Galilee, the Tiberius.John 6:1
In one sentence, John telescoped through about two years, till he got to this one event, the only miracle recorded in all four gospels.
Heavy with symbolism, as well as being one of the more publicly powerful miracles Jesus performed, John realized, after a generation of preaching, this miracle required a deeper explanation than the other gospels offered.
There was only one year left before the cross.
The disciples had just returned from their first missionary trip, sent out two by two to spread the gospel in the local villages. They had been so involved with people that there had been no time to rest or even eat for days at a time.
They had all agreed to meet in Galilee upon their return, and two by two, here they came. They hailed each other as they drew nearer. Peter and John, who had gone together, waved to Andrew and James, their brothers, who had also gone together.
“You should have seen me,” Peter shouted to Andrew, “I merely called out the name of God, and the demons fled, shrieking and shuddering!”
James made a face, as though to register great admiration and surprise.
“It is true,” John laughed, “He did cast out many demons. It seemed as though there were demoniacs in every town. He cast them out with great authority.”
Nathaniel and Phillip had also traveled together, healing many, and preaching the good news with wisdom and fervor. Nathanael had given his testimony often, “He saw me under the fig tree! And I knew he was Messiah upon first meeting.”
The others jogged in to join the growing circle of excited talmidim, regaling each other with their successes in spreading the mantle of their rabbi. Soon, all twelve were waving their arms dramatically, each one talking a little louder than the last, speaking of healings, miracles, the gospel sweeping from town to town.
Jesus watched them with quiet warmth, and prayed for them, as soon their joy would turn to sorrow. Afar off, messengers were on their way, carrying heavy news. When he saw the messengers nearing, he interjected, saying, “Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you,” Jesus waved his hands to get their attention. Peter turned and spluttered, “But, but—“ Jesus shook his head. John was already quiet, his eyes round with question.
Simon the Zealot, towards the back, jabbed his elbow into Matthew’s side. On opposite sides politically, they made odd friends, and often were at odds. One by one, each of the men stopped talking, and turned to look at Jesus. Once they were all quieted, Jesus spoke again, his voice grave, “But rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
They would soon understand his meaning. The sun, which had seemed dazzling white, now dimmed, and the air felt suddenly stifling with heat.
Jesus looked at each one, fully, reading their hearts. He had given them all authority, over every manner of physical and spiritual disease. Yet, there was still much for them to learn, and maturity for them to acquire.
As the stillness grew, the first messenger, panting and sweating, broke into the circle.
“News,” he said, in a rasping voice, his chest heaving from his run. Then, the other messenger trotted in beside the first, both covered in the dust of their travels, faces streaked with sweat.
“The Baptist, John, our prophet,” the second said, each word broken off as he pulled in a great draught of air.
“Beheaded,” said the first, and they both broke out in great sobs of mourning, panting with the effort.
The disciples, one by one, took up the weeping, and Andrew and John held each other broken in grief, for John had been their rabbi. From the dizzying heights of glory to the slough of abject despond, the disciples plunged from elation to heartache.
Jesus invited the messengers to join them for a meal, but they declined. There were many who needed to know what had happened to Israel’s last great prophet, and they would begin the next leg of their journey as soon as their wind returned. Thanking the Master for the drink he offered from his water bag, they took their leave.
“Come,” Jesus said, as he looked at the grieving men. “You need rest.” He motioned for them to walk down to the shore, towards James’ and Andrews’ boats. They would row across the sea, out of Herod’s territory, and into the tetrarch Philip’s region, for a time of retreat, while the great majority of locals went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. They would perhaps slip quietly into Jerusalem shortly before the sacrifices.
Broken-hearted, the memories already fading of their exciting missions experience, The men set their backs into rowing, pulling hard on their oars, the water softly splooshing with each dip, droplets flying with each rise. Seagulls called mournfully to each other above, and a few wispy clouds drifted across the graying sky.
They set their faces to the rising wind, thinking of the Baptist, and his now leaderless followers. It was a time for silence, for the rhythmic pull of their sculling, for the sound of the waves lapping, the occasional fish breaking the sea’s surface, the scent of the surf, the sight of their mountain retreat ahead, and the promise of rest.
They rowed four miles from Galilee to the other side, to the green rolling hills of Bethsaida, the home town of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Philip. But the crowds had seen the disciples head over to the Sea of Tiberias.
John explained that the people kept following Jesus because of the signs he performed, Now, since they already were on holiday for the Passover, the people—pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, locals who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry with them, and others surely who had been affected by the disciples’ missions trip, took the time to follow Jesus, walking nine miles around the lake.
When the disciples saw all those people, what must they have been thinking? Instead of providing their hoped-for rest and retreat, it seemed God was going to ask even more of these physically exhausted and emotionally spent men.
For, Jesus had compassion on them. The Jewish religious authorities should have been shepherding these people, but Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. The teachers of the law had been so zealously committed to understanding and obeying the law of God, they had left the people spiritually hungry for person of God, for the intimacy of true worship, for the communion God desired, and so did they.
So Jesus went with his disciples a little way up one of the many low mountains that surround Galilee, and sat down to teach and heal the rest of that day.
Think of the effort it takes to care for other people when your own heart is heavy with sadness. The disciples, at least some of them, were grieving over the death of a beloved friend, as was Jesus. John the Baptist was one of the very few people who really understood Jesus.
Think of the effort it takes to care for other people when you are tired, hungry, no time to prepare yourself.
Think of the effort it takes to care for people who just presumed upon you. These people were not thinking about Jesus’ needs, or the disciples’ needs. Without wondering why Jesus and his disciples might be heading way from Jerusalem and towards open country, they simply saw that Jesus and his disciples, and went towards them.
By evening everyone was hungry, especially Jesus and the disciples.
How would God provide, under these conditions?
Sea of Galilee, also called Tiberius |Ulrich Berens, flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)