Too tired to care?

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

There is a lot written about ministerial burnout and depression. Simply Google the bolded phrase and see what you get. I am not going to overwhelm you with statistics here. I am however going to remind you, as I remind myself, that part of depression and burnout prevention, in all helping professions, is to have a clear sense of boundaries and to maintain them. Having and holding those clear lines of what is our “Journey Inward” time for self restoration and replenishment, so that we can be at our best for our “Journey Outward” time is an essential skill for ministry. We are trained and experienced boundary keepers and we can tell horror stories from our own and others lives of the times when we have allowed those fence lines to slip or be overrun. Depression, disillusionment, acidie, and at worst suicide are the bitter harvest that await, should we not defend ourselves.

As a trained and experienced minister I know the things I have just been talking about, and that is why I find the story of Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel so disturbing. It seems the Lord I follow, the Master and Mentor I serve, is a very unskilful boundary keeper!

Or is there perhaps a secret that Jesus knew that my trainers and mentors in the ministry didn’t pass on to me?

There can be no doubt that Jesus was tired and distraught. The news he had just heard was of the bizarre murder of John the Baptiser at the whim of Herod’s wife. Jesus’ withdrawal “to a deserted place” it seems, can only be understood as an self preservation strategy. My ministerial training approves. “When the going gets tough, the wise go on a retreat!” A boat trip to a desert location, lots of sleep and rest, some journalling and reading. Regather and refocus. This is all good, so far. Textbook stuff.

The insatiable crowds motivated by multiple needs and interests, however, follow Jesus, and Our Lord, if he had any sense, would have sent his disciples (there were no secretaries then) to tell the crowd that the Master was not available and could they please reschedule?

It is at this point in the narrative, in what happens next, that I think I may have found the secret of Jesus’ life and ministry. A secret I wasn’t taught in seminary.

Matthew says, “ he had compassion for them and cured their sick” and again when the disciples (read secretaries) act very professionally and want to send the crowd home so that they can close the office for the day, are told by Jesus, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Can you hear the protests… I imagine they would have sounded like an Thai “tuk tuk taxi, “But,but,but,but, but…!”

Am I forcing the narrative if I read that Jesus’ deep human need for self preservation was sublimated here by his deeper motivation and core value of always living from a place of compassion?

Let’s not get too caught up in the mechanics and mysteries of how five loaves and two fish feed five thousand men and their families, with twelve baskets (one for each tribe of Israel) left over. I want to suggest that the actual feeding is the second miracle.

The primary miracle, as I read it from the demands and exhaustion of pastoral ministry, is that a human being endangered by a head hunting king, in grief over John’s death, exhausted by an itinerant ministry; can find the compassion in the midst of all this to care about healing and feeding those needy crowds.

Could it be that compassion practised self-sacrificially can cure exhaustion? Is is just possible that compulsive boundary keeping and safe scheduling protects and preserves the false self, and keeps me from finding my true self in compassionate care?

My pastoral care manuals say “NO!”

My master says, “Follow me!”

Steps to Sanity – Take, Thank, Break, Give (Corpus Christi)

Luke 9:11-17

When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

I am fascinated by processes. Whether it be a television programme on “How it’s Made” or a something as simple as watching a new leaf unfold on the potted plant in the sun-porch, I love to see the steps in any process.

I bring that curiosity for process to scripture and am often rewarded by seeing steps unfolding in what seemed at first to be an ordinary event in the life of Jesus

The gospel reading for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, traditionally called Corpus Christi, yields a beautiful process to my heart that is ever eager to grow into wholeness through contemplative practice.

The passage is a very well known account of the feeding of the multitude with the meagre portion of five loaves and two fish.

The narrative itself is a wonderful example of how the Holy Communion or Eucharist suffused the life of the early church, to the extent that the gospel writer has Jesus distributing the elements only after performing the Upper Room, fourfold Eucharistic action which defines the celebration, “taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd”

The fourfold actions of Jesus break down into, Took, Thanked, Broke, Gave. These actions are repeated in almost every celebration of Holy Communion by priests and ministers to this very day.

It was in contemplating the coming feast of the Corpus Christi that I realised that in this classic four step Eucharistic action of Jesus there lies aprofound process which I share for our own growth. It outlines the process of prayer and spiritual maturing which is so dependent on being nourished by our sacramental life from Jesus’ hands.

Took, Thanked, Broke, Gave…


The starting point for most spiritual journeys begins with taking. We take our sustenance from our mother’s body. It is a scary thought that a growing foetus will leach from its mother, whatever minerals it requires and literally digests the mother for what it needs.

We begin our journey of the spirit in a foetal state. God is there for us to receive from and feed from. We will take whatever God can give and then continually ask for more. Our prayer in this stage is usually couched in self interest, preservation and God fulfilling our wants which we disguise as needs.


As our nurturing Mother, God is happy to bless us with all that makes life rich in our hands. As we mature like little toddlers being taught to say “Taaaa” We learn the prayer of thanks. Gratitude begins to enter our life as we contemplate all that we have taken from life and loving God.

Gratitude is a major part of our worship as we lift not only our daily bread, replete with butter, jam and cream to God, but also realise with the hymn writer that, “All good things around us, are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord O thank the Lord for all his love


Journeying, as I have, for most of my over fifty tears of life with Jesus has taught me that life and prayer is also about breaking.

There is something very painful in the Holy Communion watching the Priest’s wafer snap, or the Minister tear the bread apart.

In the Orthodox church the priest has a special knife which he uses to cut the bread into pieces during the prayers of Intercession. So as the congregation witnesses the tearing of the body of Christ it intercedes for the brokenness of all creation.

Sometimes the breaking is joyful when I break through into new understanding and insight.

Oft times the breaking is sorrowful as I break down from my unworkable strategies, scenarios or structures with which I have scaffolded and enmeshed my life.

Jesus in the Upper room taught his proto-church that there is no growth in insight without breaking. Is that not why the Emmaus disciples only saw who Jesus really was when the bread was torn? Tearing bread, tearing veils in the holy of holies, we have to experience breaking if we are going to mature in this journey to wholeness.


There is a circular dance of growth and spirit I see in this process as I grow from Taking, then Thanking, and through Breaking learn that there is nothing I need to cling to and I am able at last to give it all away.

Faced with a demanding multitude it must have been a daunting moment when Jesus gave those first few scraps of fish and bread away.

It is just as daunting for you and me, when we come to the resting place of resignation and renunciation. To come to know that “In God we live and move and have our being” is the place of deep sanity and safety that is often most deeply grasped by the world’s poor who have nothing to Take, Thank or Break.

The ultimate sign of being one with God, Jesus taught is to be able to give it all up into the providence of God. Like the lonely grain of wheat that only grows when it has been released from the Sower’s hand. Like the bloody but unbowed corpus on the Cross that commits his spirit into the hands of a Parental God who has always been there, when there was taking, when there was thanking and even in the desolation of breaking.

There is enough for every tribe’s basket. Let’s not be afraid to give ourselves into the hands of this loving Lord, who through his gracious fourfold action in our lives will use us as the sustenance of this hungry world.

(By clicking here you can hear how these thoughts sounded when preached the next Sunday)