By now all of you have most likely heard or read the name Anders Breivik. He was arrested and charged with killing more than 90 people in Norway last week in what was the deadliest attack on Norway since World War II. Breivik, along with a compatriot or two, bombed a government building and then calmly traveled to an island camp full of children; it was there that with precision and an eery calmness, he gunned down 89 people, mostly kids. Breivik, it seems, is a right-wing extremist, a Neo-Nazi of sorts, bothered by the influx of Muslim immigrants. His was a senseless crime and another example of what happens when the desire for purity goes awry and lands in the gutter of evil. Senseless, gratuitous evil.
“These things happen, and we all know this all-too-well. But we don’t necessarily expect a figure as important as John the Baptist to get caught up in such senselessness. Yet he did. And as this lection in Matthew 14 opens, Jesus himself is reeling in grief and shock that so great a figure as his cousin could be so easily cut down.”1 You see, John the Baptist wasn’t killed for being a true prophet or for proclaiming Jesus as the Christ or for being phenomenally weird; he was killed for pointing out a sordid political sex scandal and for having the bad fortune of being around when Herod got all drunk and over-sexed.
John’s death was senseless, the result of gratuitous evil, and so Jesus, like many of us would, sought out the solace of solitude. He got into a boat and tried to have a few moments to Himself; He probably prayed in that boat, prayed for the soul of His cousin, of course, and even in His anger He most likely prayed for the redemption of Herod. In His anger He probably prayed for patience, for peace, for something good to come out of this senseless killing.
Jesus didn’t have much time to Himself. “The eager crowds hunt him down like some Ancient Near East equivalent of the press corps and paparazzi tracking down Britney Spears. Jesus would have a right to be annoyed, a right (given his emotional state) to turn his back and withdraw even more deeply into himself or into the wilderness. But there they all were, out in what we call that “solitary place,” what Matthew called eremos, the wilderness. Jesus found those crowds out in the same kind of place that His cousin John called home, where they both began their ministries, out in a place where evil and confusion reign.
So, of course, Jesus ends up taking care of the people in front of Him, He ends up having compassion. It’s a powerful lesson for all of us, for the whole Church. A lesson that makes us take a fresh look at this whole story, and “to not picture—or proclaim—Jesus as the one who is serenely above it all, pulling the necessary levers behind the scenes to generate an abundance of bread and fish. Maybe we need to see Jesus as the one with red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks and whose hands are trembling for the sorrow of it all. And yet out of his own scarcity, out of his own emotional trainwreck, he manages to bring forth an abundance of life and joy.”2
We might not be able to make sense out of senseless acts. The presence of evil in this world gives us a root cause, but when we take in, really take in things like the beheading of the Baptist or a Norwegian Neo-Nazi deliberately picking off dozens of kids with a rifle, there’s no make sense of that. But even in the midst of all of that, maybe in the midst of drawing away for a few moments for ourselves, we too find people in need. Maybe they’re sick, maybe they’re hungry, maybe they’re kids need to see a doctor or maybe they themselves need help making sense of their lives. Maybe it’s none of those things but they still need a miracle, the miracle of Jesus happening upon them in the wilderness. Maybe it’s your time to bring life and joy to others, maybe it’s your time to bring Jesus to them.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week