The Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: As I begin this week I feel like I want to be Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. I feel like I would like to provide you with a statement and then have you come up with a question in response to that statement.
So, the statement would be: "Jesus' primary response to all that happens to him in the Gospel of Mark this morning?
"The passages we read this morning from Mark 6 give you the answer and you have to put it in the form of a question. So, we will come back to that later in the message.
You will remember last week talked about our approach to reading the Bible. Making choices and decisions about what we accept and what we would prefer not to have to deal with. Our reading from the Gospel from Mark lends itself to continuing that conversation this morning.
Briefly, before we get to Mark I want to say that how we understand the Bible is central to anything and everything to do with our personal understanding of our Christian faith, our faith practices or our spirituality, and our theology.
I would go as far as to say that how we view the Bible shapes and shades everything we believe, everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do.
We often do that subconsciously. We don't often stop and think to ourselves, now what does the Bible say about this issue before we launch into a conversation with a friend. But if we have taken the time to reflect and consider what the Bible has to say it will influence our conversation. If we have spent some time thinking about the Bible for ourselves, if we have had a conversation with someone else, or if we have prayed and asked the Lord to help us understand a particular passage, if we have reflected on Scripture on regular basis it will permeate our conversation.
Unfortunately, I believe most of us approach reading the Bible in much the same way we did for studying for our driver's license test. Or for passing the end-of-year examinations that we went through when we were in High School or college. You remember how that goes right? Read enough, study enough, remember enough so that when it comes time to answer the questions you can get enough right to get through. In the back of our minds, we are thinking I am not going to need to know this for the rest of my life, I just have to remember enough to get through now.
Of course, if the Bible is something that we consider as secondary or a text without high credibility then that will influence our conversation as well.
We can tend to read the Bible superficially. We see it or hear it but we don't allow it to be more an abstract thought or something we give a nod of acknowledgment to.
This week in the Gospel of Mark we are again faced with choices. But this time it is choices that others make for us. In the creation of the Revised Common Lectionary, the authors get to choose what verses they will include and which they will not in a particular set of readings. What they choose to leave out of a particular set of readings can be influential in how we approach the Scriptures on a particular day. It would be easy to just read what is there and not stop to think about what has been omitted.
Are we even aware of what has been omitted?
Then we have to choose. Do we choose to add in what has been omitted? Do we remember what the other sections are? Do we search out those parts so that we have a broader picture of what is happening?
So this morning the reading from the Gospel of Mark seems like it reads fairly smoothly. It begins with Jesus seeking to get a report from the disciples on what happened on the journey he sent them on at the end of last week's reading. Jesus suggests they go to a quiet place BUT the crowds follow. Jesus chooses to minister to them. Then the next thing we know we are with Jesus and the disciples on the other side of the lake and the crowds again flock around him. Mark recounts that they bring everyone who was in need of Jesus' healing and healing flows out of him.
I have to take a moment and ask: do you think this Account sounds familiar? Weren't we just here in this very same region a couple of weeks ago? Right here in Gennesaret with Jesus and the disciples having come across the lake remember? Jesus had to calm the storm on the lake as well that time? We remember that Jesus healed the demoniac and told him to go and tell everyone what happened to him. No wonder people stream out of the villages of the region to meet Jesus and be healed. These are wonderful stories and you would think I would have more than enough to talk about without having to revisit the Bible and its influence on us. But I have to say it is fascinating what the authors of the RCL have decided to omit from our reading this morning.
Does anyone know what two stories we are not reading this morning?
Well, the first story is the feeding of the five thousand. Those who have followed Jesus to this deserted place need to be fed. Jesus meets the needs of the crowd and feeds them.
Then that is followed by Jesus walking on water. Jesus has sent the disciples on ahead of him. Jesus walks out across the lake to once again meet with the disciples in the midst of a storm, where they again are afraid of the boat capsizing and them drowning. Now, I don't claim to know the minds of the authors of the RCL. But those two accounts seem like significant events. Deciding to omit them, seems to me, to be significant in itself. Unlike Jefferson, who we talked about last week, with his miraculous Jesus deleted, I don't think the authors of the RCL omit these stories in an effort to reduce the impact or the authenticity of Jesus as a miracle worker.
I would like to suggest that they are trusting that we know the Bible well enough to know these stories are there. That we are aware that the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus walking on the water to the disciples are recounted by Mark here in this Gospel. They are trusting that in omitting them we will not forget them or their impact and influence on us.
So, what can we learn or consider as we look at what the authors of the RCL have decided to leave in the Gospel reading this morning? I will give you a hint. I would like to suggest that we have the opportunity to focus in on "the nature and character of Jesus" in this reduced account.
We are back to my Jeopardy-style statement that I proposed at the beginning of my message. Do you remember what it was? I was not sure I actually remembered how I phrased so I went back and copied and pasted it here: "Jesus' primary response to all that happens to him in the Gospel of Mark this morning?"
Remember in Jeopardy you have to put your answer in the form of a question. But before I ask for your response let's do a quick review of what has been happening.
All that we read the Gospel this morning is in the context of Jesus seeking to meet with the disciples in a quiet place so he can hear the reports the disciples have of their first-ever mission journey. Jesus has sent them out to begin their own experience of not only being his followers but to experience for themselves the work and ministry he has been training them for.
Instead of having that opportunity the people they have tried to leave behind discover where they are and they come and take up the time and space that he wants to have with the disciples.
How does Jesus react? Jesus cares for them. How is that contrasted with the disciple's response? The disciples look at the large crowd and in some trepidation come to Jesus and say he must send the people away. Jesus instead takes what is available and feeds the multitude.
Then, in the second story from this morning, once the boat reaches the other side of the lake Jesus ministers to the needs of the people. We once again find Jesus in the middle of a crowd clamoring for his help and healing. In an echo of the story, we heard a couple of weeks ago when the woman touched the hem of Jesus' robe and was healed, this time large numbers of people are healed by touching the fringe of his clothing.
Once again Jesus finds himself in the midst of a demanding, needy and anxious crowd. Everyone around him wants something from him. He travels through the region and everywhere he goes there are people who want him to meet their needs. Don't forget he has just come through. He just experienced another storm on the lake where he had to bring all the forces of nature under control. He brought peace into the midst of chaos.
Then he finds himself in the center of this draining and demanding, tiring mob.
Do you remember what Jesus said when the woman touched him a couple of weeks ago? He felt power go out from him. Can you imagine what it must have been like to, day after day, village after village, crowd after crowd to minister and heal to all those who needed him?
So, we are back to my Jeopardy-style statement are you ready to try to answer?
"Jesus' primary response to all that happens to him in the Gospel of Mark this morning?"
Remember in Jeopardy you have to put your answer in the form of a question.
Does someone want to suggest an answer?
My answer is "what is compassion?"
Now the phrase only appears in the one story from this morning, but I don't think we are going too far outside the borders of Jesus' behavior to suggest that Jesus' response in all these situations is one of compassion.
So, perhaps it is worth us examining what Jesus' example might mean for us?
I went online and found this definition for compassion: "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others." Another definition I came across said this: "compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
"Jesus saw the suffering of those around him and identified with that suffering. He not only identified with it but he was also motivated to come alongside those who were suffering and to relieve that suffering.
We get a wonderful insight into Jesus' nature and character in the Gospel reading this morning. Not just in his response but in the words that Mark uses to help us understand why Jesus did what he did. Mark says that the reason Jesus fed and healed all those who came across his path was: "because they were like sheep without a shepherd." The compassion Jesus offered had very little to do with whether or not these people deserved his compassion.
Jesus did not have the disciples or the village leaders gather the people in groups and assess the righteousness of the people. He didn't seek to learn about their past, their present relationships, or their willingness to abide by a set of conditions or to agree to make changes in their current lifestyle. Jesus had compassion because he recognized that the people before him needed a shepherd. Now I don't want to be too hard on the disciples this morning. I have to say I certainly identify with them more than Jesus this morning. "For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat." I believe I identify with that feeling, that sense expressed by the disciples, that just seems to be so much need and so much demand and so little resource to meet the need.
I identify with the disciples in their response in the section we didn't read this morning: "When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”
"I understand the disciples reasoned response. They saw the situation for what it was and couldn't see how they could meet the need. Unfortunately, I know that, too often, I have used my reasoned responses to relieve myself of my responsibility to even attempt to meet the needs of others.
I don't see those around me with needs as "sheep without a shepherd." I am more likely to see them as someone who hasn't taken responsibility for themselves. I am not very likely to take a Jesus approach. I am not likely to "have compassion for them." Particularly not the kind of compassion that Jesus did:
"sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others." or"... the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering."
As I am faced with all the demands that confronted Jesus in the reading from the Gospel this morning I am grateful that he had compassion on me.
I pray that somehow we can all seek to have an attitude of compassion when we are dealing with one another and with those we come across this week.
The Prayer of St Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
For the Human Family from Prayers and Thanksgivings (BCP pg 815)
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.