John the Baptist is Dead

I’m not the kind of blogger who writes about my personal life and feelings–it’s too messy, too vulnerable, too fickle to publish as a static blog post. That’s why I like retelling stories from the Bible; they’ve been the same for a long time. 

So here’s a story from Matthew 14, the result of reading this passage with some friends yesterday. If some days it overlaps and intersects with my own story, or yours, that’s fine with me. After all, we’re all welcome in God’s Story; it’s our story too. 

John the Baptist is dead. And I want to cry.

But I can’t. Because I’m with Jesus, which means there are people everywhere around me. And I’m a man, which means I don’t cry in public.

But this news hurts. Tangibly, literally hurts. John offered me my first glimpse of the kingdom of heaven; before I was Jesus’ disciple, I was John’s. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be standing here next to Jesus, listening as rattles off parables to the uncomprehending crowd.

Jesus looks pretty messed up right now too, which makes sense; John is his cousin, his partner, his best friend. They were a team since they were born–even before they were born. And now John’s dead, his body buried without a head.

I can tell Jesus wants to cry too, but like me, he can’t. Not yet.

He asks me to get my boat ready, which I’m eager to do; I’m desperate to get away from this crowd. Soon, the twelve of us and Jesus are on the lake, headed for nowhere. We all just want a place to be alone, to grieve, to pray.

John the Baptist is dead. And I want to cry.

But I can’t. Because the crowd is still following us–on foot–along the shore. And it’s obvious they can tell where we’re going. And they’re growing, picking up friends and relatives along the way.

I’ve never felt such disdain for a group of people in my life.

By the time we reach the shore of this supposedly solitary beach, there’s a mob of thousands waiting for us.

No, not for us. For Jesus, in our boat.

I look at Jesus and he looks heavy, like the weight of the crowd just dropped on top of the weight his dead cousin’s body draped across his shoulders. He’s too compassionate for his own good.

I want to tell him that, but it’s obviously no use. He’s already out of the boat, surrounded by people looking for a miracle. So we hop out and do our thing. Line them up, bring the sick to Jesus, and watch them be made well. It’s remarkable. World-changing. And I don’t care.

John the Baptist is dead. And I want to cry.

But I can’t. Because it’s my job to bring people to Jesus, and there are still so many people left. Ordinary miracles fill the afternoon with a numb sort of irony.

My mind wanders back to John. I wonder if his execution is just a preview of mine. I mean, if he’s been preparing the way for Jesus, we’re all likely to share the same fate. I help a cripple hobble over to Jesus and wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.

Eventually, the sun begins to set and relief finally seems imminent. I approach Jesus, “It’s getting late, and we’re in the middle of nowhere. Send the crowd away, so they can go back home and eat.”

Jesus must want this as much as I do–a valid reason to finally get some space. But he doesn’t go for it. “They don’t have to leave,” he says, turning to me, “You feed them.”

I’ve never thought to yell at Jesus before, until now. I want to scream, to laugh in his face. You want me to feed them?! With what? I have almost nothing left to offer. We don’t even have enough to feed ourselves! I try to bite my tongue, but my response is still drenched with frustration, “We only have five loaves and two fish.”

“Bring them here,” Jesus replies.

So I give Jesus our dinner, he sits everyone down, says a little prayer, and starts breaking off pieces of food for us to hand out to the crowd. And, because he’s Jesus, the bread and fish keep coming. Every time I go back, there’s more.

My mind should be boggled. I should be in awe. But I hardly even notice; because the same thought is still reverberating in my brain.

John the Baptist is dead. And I still just want to cry.

But I can’t. Because I have to pass out Jesus’ miracle bread, and it won’t stop coming.

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