One of my favourite places on earth is the Namib desert.
Over 50 million years old and covering over 80 000 square kilometres, this vast place seems, at first glance, to be completely inhospitable and sterile. But to those with the wisdom to fix their gaze beneath the seductive purple hues of the horizon to the shimmering, shifting sands under their feet, life triumphs in the number of unusual and rare plants and animals who have adapted to survive the harsh conditions.
I was astounded by our guide who wove tales of this living desert from the faintest tracks upon the sand; who stalked a chameleon over 500 metres of rock and scrub; who stood upon a sidewinder in his attempt to locate one for us; who pointed out the tunnels of invisible spiders right beside our feet; who barrelled out of the 4X4 and into the side of a mammoth dune to emerge with a little lizard held tenderly in his enormous hand; who spoke reverently as the sun set of the fog that would creep over the coast at night allowing nature to flourish in a land where rain is so scarce and unpredictable.
As I journey with the Gospel reading this week (Matthew 14:13-21), I am equally astounded that a crowd of over 5000 people would so readily forsake the comfort and convenience of home and community for the solitary, deserted place into which Jesus had withdrawn to pray.
What did they see in Jesus that they would follow him on foot from their towns to a remote place without any certainty about how he would receive them, or concern about what they would feed their families with that day?
Did they see beneath the surface of an inhospitable, sterile place to the possibility of healing and spiritual sustenance?
Were their lives perhaps more inhospitable and sterile than the deserted place to which they flocked in order to find real satisfaction, true abundance?
Just a few chapters before, we read of Jesus speaking to the crowds in parables which confuse his disciples. When they question him on his methods, he responds:
But blessed are your eyes because they see,
and your ears because they hear.
Matthew 13:16 (NIV)
Though we may find ourselves in a deserted place;
though some of our relationships may be on rocky ground;
though our finances may look bleak
or our jobs may be unrewarding
or there may be no job at all;
though we may struggle to get through all we have to do in a day
and fall each night into bed exhausted,
or have no reason to get out of bed each morning
and lose each day to a suffocating depression that no one seems to understand;
though we are barely holding onto hope by our fingertips,
may we have eyes to see the Christ who turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into a feast for 5000
and have the courage to follow the One who will not send us away empty-handed.