So Steph and I and the boys decided to have a backyard camp out last Saturday. We had learned from previous camp outs that, as practicing Catholics, going to church after a camp out is not the most enjoyable experience. Usually, we're tired and in a fair amount of pain from mattresses that go somewhat flat in the middle of the night. Stupid mattresses.
So we decided to go to Saturday mass at a church we don't usually attend near our house. With a 4:00 p.m. start time, we'd be cooking by 5:30, swimming by 7:00, s'moreing by 9:00, and passed out by 11:00. Perfect night.
What I didn't count on was one of the most amazing history lessons I would ever receive, and how it all came back to a phone call I'd received two hours earlier.
Even if you're not Catholic, or even Christian, most of you know the story of the loaves and fishes in the Bible. Jesus speaks to 5,000 men, and when done preaching, he prays over five barley loaves and two fishes. The disciples then disperse the food, and by the time they pick up the scraps, they fill 12 bushel baskets, leaving the disciples to ask, "What the....?!"
I'd heard the story a bunch from the time I was a kid, but it was about to take on a whole new meaning.
So after the gospel, we sat down and the priest gave me this:
So the Bible always talks about the twelve disciples, but in actuality, there were way more people than that. You had the women, you had the people you might consider hangers on. So in reality, most of the time when you hear the term "the Twelve," it's more like "the Sixty." And in truth, it might well be over "the Hundred."
So today, it's not just Jesus and the however many. Now it's Him, His entourage, and 5000 men, not including any women or children stragglers, which could number a few thousand more. And He's preaching and telling parables, and it's a good day. Everyone is sitting on the grass, hearing this great teacher. We'll come back to the grass in a moment.
So at the end of the talk, the disciples come up to Jesus and say, "It's getting late. Disperse the crowd so that they can walk to the nearest village to get something to eat."
Well, this is the Middle East. It's late in the day, which means the sun is going down, and unless there's a full moon, there's not a whole lot of light. And remember when I said that the crowd sat on the grass during the day? Now, in the Middle East, most of the land that's big enough to hold 5000 men, plus however many more, is grazing land. Well, what grazed in the Middle East, and still does to this day?
Primarily, it's sheep... and sheep are vicious grazers. When they graze, they eat the blades of grass all the way down to the nubs. Even in the old west, when cowboys came upon a huge flock of sheep, they'd continue moving their cattle because eventually, the sheep would eat everything and the cows would have no food.
Yet in this part of the world, there was grass. So what does that mean? It means that there were no sheep. But why? More than likely, it's because the land was too far away from any town to graze sheep that far out. I mean, Jesus got to the place by boat, so that's telling you something.
So when the disciples say, "Let's disperse the crowd so that they can find something to eat in a nearby town," realize that there is no nearby town. It's probably a good eight-to-ten miles. Picture walking that in a nice neighborhood in St. Louis. Now picture walking it in the middle of nowhere in the Middle East at night with not a single street lamp... or a road.
The disciples were trying to shirk their responsibility. They didn't want to deal with the hungry mob, at night, nowhere near their homes. What? Who me? Feed you? You should have porked out at the Nazareth Stuckey's.
Okay, so he didn't say the Stuckey's part.
But as we know, Jesus was having none of it. He saw many in need, and He was going to do what He could to help these people. Which is quite a lot, because, well...He's Jesus. He can do anything He wants.
And at that moment, I was taken back to two hours earlier that very day. I received an email from a friend asking to talk to me about something important. I immediately called, not knowing what to expect. After a few minutes, my friend told me about an employee at the office. The employee is only 30 years old, and had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. My friend didn't know what to do or what to say, but felt that something had to be said.
I have a unique perspective because I've been through cancer personally. And even for me, it's incredibly hard to approach someone to offer support, especially if I don't know the person very well. Hell, I've even had a few friends that disappeared during my own battle because they didn't know how to handle it. I don't blame those friends for bailing, I really don't. I do, however, celebrate those with the desire to overcome their fears to speak up.
I won't say everything that I told my friend, because every instance is unique. What I will say is that if you really do want to be there for someone for the long haul, and I highly encourage it, it is simply okay to say,
I can't imagine what you're going through, and I'm not going to incessantly bug you, but if you need a shoulder, an ear, or something physical like a meal or a mow, I'm here. And if you give me the go-ahead for the physical stuff, I'll just take the bull by the horns and you never have to worry about it again. And I'm only telling you this because I sincerely want to, not because I think I have to.
Jesus could have easily dispersed the crowds that day, just as my friend could have easily dismissed the co-worker with cancer, but neither did. They both decided to make the tough choices because in their instances, they were the right choices.
And I'm thankful that we made the choice to do Saturday evening church instead of Sunday morning. It took me a while to pull the wilted mattress out of my ass.
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