“The apostles returned to Jesus and reported to him everything they had done and taught.” As well as reporting to him what they themselves had done and taught, they told him what had befallen John the Baptist while they were teaching. And he said to them: “Come away to some place where you can be alone by yourselves and rest awhile.”
The following words show what real need there was to give the disciples some rest: “For many were coming and going and they had no time even to eat.” The great happiness of those days can be seen from the hard work of those who taught and the enthusiasm of those who learned. If only in our time such a concourse of faithful listeners would again press round the ministers of the word, not allowing them time to attend to their physical needs! For those denied the time needed to look after their bodies will have still less opportunity to heed the soul’s or the body’s temptations. Rather, people of whom the word of faith and the saving ministry is demanded in season and out of season have an incentive to meditate upon heavenly things so as not to contradict what they teach by what they do.
“And they got into the boat and went away by themselves to a deserted spot.” The disciples did not get into the boat alone, but took the Lord with them, as the evangelist Matthew makes clear.
“Many people saw them set out and recognized them, and from all the towns they hastened to the place on foot and reached it before them.” The fact that people on foot are said to have reached the place first shows that the disciples did not go with our Lord to the opposite bank of the sea or the Jordan, but crossed some stream or inlet to reach a nearby spot in the same region, within walking distance for the local people.
“When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
Matthew relates more fully how he took pity on them. He says: “And he took pity on them and cured their sick.” This is what it means really to take pity on the poor, and on those who have no one to guide them: to open the way of truth to them by teaching, to heal their physical infirmities, and to make them want to praise the divine generosity by feeding them when they are hungry as Jesus did according to the following verses.
Jesus tested the crowd’s faith, and having done so he gave it a fitting reward. He sought out a lonely place to see if they would take the trouble to follow him. For their part, they showed how concerned they were for their salvation by the effort they made in going along the deserted road not on donkeys or in carts of various kinds, but on foot. In return Jesus welcomed those weary, ignorant, sick, and hungry people, instructing, healing, and feeding them as a kindly savior and physician, and so letting them know how pleased he is by believers’ devotion to him
The Venerable Bede