Jesus and Aleppo
I’m in the middle of Matthew 14 right now. The first chunk is the story of John the Baptizer’s death — how the paranoid ruler Herod, outraged at being called out on his sin by John — threw him into prison and then had him killed. It’s a story that is frustrating in how senseless the evil seems to be.
It also feels familiar, 2000 years later. There aren’t many days that go by without headlines of death and destruction brought about by terrorists — evil for the simple sake of causing fear and panic to gain power. Gunshots fired, bombs, trucks crashing into innocent people — these have all become commonplace in our world. Sometimes the terror strikes close to home — in America, in France, in Germany, in these places that we share history and linguistic heritage with. Sometimes it’s further away psychologically — in the Middle East, in the refugee crisis, in the devastated city of Aleppo and the heart wrenching messages from its citizens.
So Jesus’s response to the murder of His cousin seemed like a very timely thing to be studying in this season of Advent, filled as it is with both grief and joy, darkness and light.
|Photo by Nick Schumacher
When Jesus heard about John’s death, He tried to get away from people, to pray. I appreciate that He modeled this desire, because there are days when, confronted with the brokenness of the world, with the evil wrought by prideful and foolish men, I want to run away. I want space to breathe and process and pray, not to continue on with life as normal. This response to grief in the face of evil is not illegitimate or sinful.
Rather than giving Him the space that He wanted, crowds of people followed Him. They were full of their own needs — long term ones that were wrecking havoc on their lives and families, no doubt, in the form of illnesses. They came to Jesus with a desperate hope that He’d heal them. They had small, mundane needs too, like the need to eat. (And apparently also learning how to plan ahead.)
Had I been in Jesus’s position, I don’t think that I would have felt a lot of love towards these people. His cousin, only a few months older than Him, had just been killed for an incredibly idiotic reason — the pride of a drunken, lustful, crazy ruler — and rather than letting him be, hordes of people followed Him and wanted Him to deal with their problems. When I’m feeling grieved and shell shocked by evil, it’s easy for me to not notice the existence of other humans. Certainly my chief concern is not responding to their needs.
But Jesus had compassion. He healed them. He fed them. He exhibited great patience with them — both the crowds and His disciples. Long-suffering would be an appropriate term to describe His attitude, and not a resentful long-suffering that’s just teeth grit tight and handling this crisis so He could at last get away. He had compassion. He empathized with them, entering into their grief and pain as He did all throughout the incarnation.
Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated trust in the Father, a confident assurance that He’d provide for their needs. And of course, He did. I’ve heard the story so many times that it seems like nothing when Jesus looks up to heaven and blesses the food.
When I’m facing devastating evil, death, I don’t feel like recognizing God with thankfulness, or trusting Him to meet my other needs. I’m more liable to feel like the rug’s pulled out from underneath me. But Jesus trusts the Father’s goodness and His heart to provide.
This is a well timed challenge to me. The senseless, cruel destruction wrought in our world by wicked foolish men does merit real grief, yet that must coexist with a confident trust in the goodness of God and an ongoing compassion for those who are alive and near to me. Mourning over the evil in Aleppo does not excuse me from caring for my students. It’s alright, and fitting, and good, to withdraw sometimes, to pour out my heart and thoughts to the Father and to listen to Him — but Jesus didn’t stay on that mountain. He went on with His work of healing and teaching — bringing the kingdom.
I am finding so much comfort in the reminders that Jesus intimately knows all of the suffering and struggles that we face. He knows, through His own experience, how hard it is to live well in a broken world. I am so grateful for the incarnation.