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. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
After hearing about the execution of John the Baptist reported by John’s own disciples, Jesus wanted some time away from the crowds. He boarded a fishing boat for a destination away from the towns and villages of Galilee. He wanted to simply strategically retreat, to have a sabbath of sorts from the demands of the crowd, no doubt to personally process what had occurred with his cousin, John. He got to take the boat ride, but that was all.
The press of ministry was always around Jesus. The crowds managed to be right there on shore waiting for Jesus in the remote part of the lake. He was met by more ministry. His get away turned into a long commute to even more ministry. The need for His teaching, compassion, and healing was such that it was always there.
How did Jesus respond when He wanted to get away but could not get away? His heart had compassion. He went from the brief respite of a boat ride right back into the demanding care of countless crowds of people who needed His love and He responded to them with His love. He spent the day caring for them and even miraculously feeding those that He could not escape, who in their haste to see Him did not even think to pack a lunch. And then after sending them back home healed and filled, Jesus ascended a mountain to pray alone (Matthew 14:23). He served in love when He could not get away. But then Jesus found a way to still spend time, solitary and reflective, in prayer.