The story of feeding 5000 people (or more, as many question if this 5000 was only counting the men, or everyone) is very impressive. Feeding the hungry is a good thing and should be celebrated. This story, though, is bookended by something that we often skip over so we can get to “the good stuff”.
The disciples had come back. They had been sent. They preached. They healed. They shared the good news about Jesus and the Kingdom. They were probably really excited to share.
Jesus, however, knew they needed something they didn’t recognize they needed…solitude.
In our day and age, solitude is a struggle. Theoretically, the quietest spot in the continental US is in Olympic National Park in Washington. There is a place in the Hoh Min rain forest that one is unable to hear the sounds of humanity. To protect this space there have had to be discussions with the FAA, airlines, and even the Federal Government about keeping it that way. It has been a struggle.
As humanity’s technology has evolved, it’s effect upon solitude has been significant. Many people will suffer measurable hearing loss earlier than in previous generations due to noise. As hearing is one of our senses, and often the one that senses danger first, our hearing is active. Any noise, therefore, may disrupt our quiet.
Now, people buy technological devices to quiet the sound around them, so that they can simulate quiet.
The disciples were probably feeling a “high” of experience. Many of us have had those spiritual highs. We want them. We pursue them. We miss the next step.
Jesus wanted his disciples to be removed from the excitement. They needed time to (as we say) decompress. It may have been a good time to process with Jesus what they did in his name.
Instead, people clamored and disturbed them. Out of compassion, Jesus fed them.
Jesus sent off the disciples. Not quite the same as being alone with them, but through that act, a separation was made, and the disciples could be “off”. No one knows what they talked about (if anything) on the trip. It was away. Which is what mattered.
There are ebbs and flow in life. Jesus had his own ebbs and flows and wanted the same for his disciples. That applies to us, too.
In an “age of distraction”, where even church can be more full of noise that time with God, we need to each take deliberate actions to seek God and to find our own solitude. Even the extroverts need solitude (maybe less than introverts, granted). You may not be able to go to the Hoh Min rain forest, but you can and should find a place, a way, and a time, to be alone with yourself (no matter how much that might disquiet you), and also find time to be alone with God.