Shared Load

"I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me" (Num 11).

There must have been days when even the human Jesus felt overwhelmed. In today's Gospel, he has just received word of the beheading of John the Baptist. His ministry has just taken a deadly turn, and Jesus knew that resistance to his message could have mortal consequences. So he and his disciples withdraw in the boat to grieve and consider how to proceed. 

But as they arrive on the far side of the lake, huge crowds are waiting to be taught and, as it runs out, fed. Jesus responds with compassion, seeing not needy mouths to be fed, but people who were like "sheep without a shepherd."

Moses was likewise overwhelmed with a hungry and complaining crowd in today's first reading. The people actually long for slavery in Egypt again, because at least there they had enough to eat.  Moses complains to God about the burden of leading such a people. He would rather be dead that continue: "Please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress."

The difference between Moses and Jesus lies in Jesus' understanding that the mission he was announcing was being accomplished by God and not him. He is so confident that the people will be fed, he places the task on his disciples: "Give them some food yourselves." Because Jesus trusts his Abba so completely, and because the disciples trust Jesus so completely, the crowds are fed, with large baskets of leftovers.  The story of Moses and Manna in the desert is fulfilled in Jesus.

Who among us has not at times felt overwhelmed by the burdens and responsibilities of work and family? Who has not complained, if only in their own mind, about how difficult other people they are trying to help can be?  Jesus knew that frustration, but was also filled with the compassion his Abba had for those in distress. It was this Compassion he knew was driving the situation, and that his Abba was already at work in preparing to feed the crowds, not with Manna, but with the miracle of Jesus as the Bread of Life. That same Bread is always available to us as we give ourselves in compassion for others