Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. (Matthew 14:13 ESV)
What was it that Jesus heard about that drove Him into “desolate” isolation? It was the death of His friend and forerunner John the Baptist. This is the same Jesus who, when questioned by this same John. told the Baptizer that he would need to be able to accept God’s will for him even if that will was prison. This is the Jesus who knew in the marrow of His being that no death was final and no saint would be forgotten. This Jesus would wait four extra days before going to Mary and Martha’s house to ensure the expiration of their brother Lazarus. This was the Jesus that wasn’t afraid of death, and wasn’t intimidated by loss. And now He’s encountering, it seems, some despondency.
What does this mean? I don’t think it means nearly as much about Jesus as it does about sorrow. Jesus was human, this fact is a non-negotiable in the orthodox, Christian belief about the Incarnation. Yes He was God, but He was human. So it really shouldn’t cause any balk in us to see Him sad, despondent, or in need of some time to “sort through” His own emotions and feelings. What this should tell us, very clearly, is that the expectation of perpetual happiness that is proclaimed in modern American Christianity (“hey, get saved, all of your dreams will come true and you’ll be happy for the rest of your life”) is not the same thing the Bible speaks of. I almost hesitate to say it, due to its intrinsic clarity, but we should be able to agree that any life that is presented as the “Christian” life should be able to include Jesus. At the very least the blueprint of Christianity should be seen through the life and actions of Jesus Christ. That seems elementary, but I fear that the expectations of “faith” in our Western context are incongruous with this reality.
Jesus got sad. Jesus got angry. Jesus was treated unfairly. Jesus lost friends. Jesus likely buried his father, Joseph. Jesus was stabbed in the back by His friends…His closest friends. Jesus was financially impoverished. Jesus had to rely on the kindness of people for the sustaining elements of His life (food, shelter, etc…). I say all of these things to make sure that we all understand that none of these things are necessarily spawned from personal sin. None of these things were retributive acts of God upon Christ, and may we as the sons and daughters of God understand that they aren’t punishments toward us as well. These conditions, these sorrows, these problems find their genesis in the fractured nature of the world. Disease, poverty, and violence all feed off of the crippling presence of sin in this world.
Jesus fought, and faced, the same things we fight and face and He was perfect, spotless, and sinless. Let us draw great comfort from the fact that upon hearing about John’s death Jesus needed to “take a minute”. We are not short on faith when we weep over lost loved ones or friends. We are not functioning outside of God’s will when sometimes we find the only response we have to some of the ills of the world (violence, oppression, slavery, famine, etc…) is to step away from everything, get alone with God and let Him reassure us that He is still bigger than all of the things we see.