“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
“This” that he heard is the news of John the Baptist’s death. He wants to be alone. His great friend, his baptizer, his cousin was dead. I am positive that Jesus was sad, not just for the painful manner of John’s death; not just for himself missing his friend; not just for all the sad followers of John’s who were now with him, with heavy hearts. If I could paint, I would paint Jesus stepping into a small boat, his back is to us, his head is bent down, his hands grasp the sides of the boat, one foot is in, one foot is pushing off and about to the rise. He makes it into the boat, he makes it out to the water.
The very next word in the story is “but”.
“But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.”
The crowds see the boat rowing about the shore and they follow. Perhaps carrying their sick on mats? Perhaps slowly, limping. Perhaps guiding the blind. Would you have followed? What might you have thought was going on? Would you have felt desperate that the great healer, your only hope, was leaving – maybe even running away for fear of his head getting cut off? Would you have felt fear for him? What if you weren’t one of the crowd, what if you didn’t follow. Were you being respectful of the Rabbi having some time alone? Were you being indifferent to the whole show – what Messiah, bah? What good does a Messiah do, stories for children, stories of healing for the women to cluck over. Or did you watch the crowd, did you strain to see the boat, but you had to bring the harvest in, bake the day’s bread, nurse the baby, make the bricks. Something you had to do, could not just up and go. How did you feel?