The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

IF YOU CAN REMEMBER FROM LAST WEEK, AFTER JESUS SENT HIS TWELVE DISCIPLES OUT ON THEIR OWN TO TEACH, PREACH, HEAL, AND CAST OUT DEMONS, MARK INSERTED THE STORY OF THE DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST. NOW, MARK PICKS UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF AS THE DISCIPLES RETURN TO JESUS AND TELL HIM ABOUT ALL THE THINGS THEY DID IN HIS NAME. WHILE THEY WERE TRYING TO REPORT TO JESUS, THE CROWD STILL PRESSED IN ON THEM SO THAT THEY COULD NOT EVEN SIT DOWN TO HAVE A MEAL. IT WAS LIKE TRYING TO HAVE A SERIOUS CONVERSATION WITH A FRIEND IN A CROWDED PLACE WHILE SOMEONE NEXT TO YOU IS SHOUTING INTO HIS CELL PHONE. THIS IS WHY JESUS GOT THEM INTO A BOAT TO GO TO A DESERTED PLACE TO REST AND RECOVER IN PEACE. THEY SAILED FROM CAPERNAUM TO TAGHBA ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE SEA OF GALILEE, WHICH YOU CAN SEE FROM CAPERNAUM. SINCE THE GREAT CROWD COULD SEE WHERE THEY WERE GOING, THEY RUSHED ON FOOT AND GOT THERE AHEAD OF JESUS AND THE TWELVE. SO THERE WAS NO REST FOR JESUS AND THE TWELVE.

WHILE IT MIGHT NOT SEEM SO IN A CURSORY READING OF THE TEXT, THERE IS A LOT GOING ON HERE IN THIS SHORT GOSPEL PASSAGE, AND A LOT LEFT OUT BY THOSE WHO PUT TOGETHER THE REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY. WHEN JESUS COMES ASHORE AND SEES THE GREAT CROWD WAITING FOR HIM, HE HAS COMPASSION FOR THEM, “BECAUSE THEY WERE LIKE SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD; AND HE BEGAN TO TEACH THEM MANY THINGS.” WHAT THE GOSPEL READING LEAVES OUT IS THAT JESUS ALSO FED THE GREAT CROWD OF ABOUT FIVE THOUSAND WITH FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH. I GUESS THE DESIGNERS OF THE LECTIONARY FIGURED THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE CONSIDERING JESUS FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, SO WE’LL JUST SKIP OVER IT HERE. I AM COMPELLED TO AT LEAST MENTION IT BECAUSE IT IS INTEGRAL TO MARK’S CONTRAST BETWEEN THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

LIKE MANY OF THE REFERENCES OF SHEPHERD IN THE HEBREW TEXT, HERE IN MARK THE IMAGE OF JESUS AS THE SHEPHERD IS A SCATHING INDITEMENT OF ISRAEL’S FALSE LEADERS, WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE SHEPHERDS OF ISRAEL. FOLLOWING AS IT DOES AFTER THE ACCOUNT OF THE BEHEADING OF JOHN, THIS PASSAGE, TO INCLUDE THE FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND, IS A SPECIFIC INDITEMENT AND CHALLENGE TO HEROD, AND ALL THE HERODS OF THIS WORLD. THE PEOPLE OF GOD HAVE BECOME EXACTLY WHAT ALL THE PROPHETS HAVE WARNED ABOUT, SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD; WEAKENED, SCATTERED, AND VULNERABLE. THEIR SUPPOSED SHEPHERD LEAVES THEM HUNGRY, AND THROWS A BANQUET FOR THE ‘MOVERS AND SHAKERS’ OF THE KINGDOM, AT WHICH HE MURDERS THE HERALD OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD. THE PEOPLE ARE LONGING FOR, AND EVEN CHASING AFTER A TRUE SHEPHERD TO LEAD THEM.

WHEN JESUS STEPS OUT OF THE BOAT, HE IS MOVED WITH COMPASSION FOR THESE LOST SHEEP, AND SHOWS HIMSELF TO BE THE TRUE SHEPHERD, AS “HE BEGAN TO TEACH THEM MANY THINGS.” HE FEEDS THEIR SOULS WITH THE WORD OF GOD, AND FEEDS THEIR BODIES WITH BREAD AND FISH. IN SO DOING, MARK WANTS US TO SEE, HE SHOWS HIMSELF AS THE VERY SON OF GOD IN WHOM THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS INDEED COME INTO THE WORLD.

THE TEXT FOR TODAY NOW JUMPS TO JESUS AND THE TWELVE GOING TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LAKE TO GENNESARETH; THE REGION OF THE GENTILES. THEY WERE PROBABLY STILL LOOKING FOR A PLACE OF PEACE AND QUIET, BUT THAT DREAM IS SHATTERED WHEN JESUS IS IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZED. THE PEOPLE RUSHED ABOUT, BRINGING TO HIM ALL THE SICK, EVEN CARRYING THEM IN THEIR BEDS THAT JESUS MIGHT TOUCH THEM TO HEAL THEM. IN WHATEVER TOWN HE ENTERED, THEY LAID THE SICK IN THE MARKETPLACE AND BEGGED HIM TO HEAL THEM.

THE WORD TRANSLATED AS MARKETPLACE IS AGORA. THIS WAS A PUBLIC PLACE WHERE, IN ADDITION TO THE BUYING AND SELLING OF FOOD AND GOODS, LEGAL PROCEEDINGS, ELECTIONS, TEACHING, AND DEBATES TOOK PLACE. THUS THE MARKETPLACE WAS THE POLITICAL AND COMMERCIAL CENTER OF THE CITY OR TOWN. MARK, VERY SUBTLY, SHOWS US THE SUBVERSIVE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. BY HEALING THE MOST VULNERABLE AND WEAKEST MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY IN THE MIDST OF THE PLACE OF POLITICS AND ECONOMICS, JESUS IS SUBVERTING THE ECONOMY OF THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD BY BREAKING INTO IT WITH THE ECONOMY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. THE MARKETPLACES OF THIS WORLD BELONG TO THE RICH AND POWERFUL, AND IN THESE MOST POLITICAL AND COMMERCIAL SPACES, THE KINGDOM OF GOD BREAKS IN THROUGH JESUS’ GRACE AND COMPASSION FOR THOSE WHO HAVE THE LEAST. THE ANARCHIST “OCCUPY WALL STREET” MOVEMENT WAS AN UNWITTING PITIFUL COPY OF JESUS “OCCUPYING THE AGORA” WITH THE LOVE AND GRACE OF GOD.

THUS MARK SHOWS US THE WAY OF THE TRUE SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL, AND OF THE GENTILES, WHO STANDS IN OPPOSITION TO ALL THE FALSE SHEPHERDS WHO USE THEIR POWER AND WEALTH TO OPPRESS THE WEAK AND THE POOR. THE WAY OF THE TRUE SHEPHERD IS TO LEAD HIS FLOCK BY HIS LOVE AND COMPASSION FOR THEM, BY FEEDING THEM WITH THE VERY WORD OF GOD, AND BY TENDING TO THEIR HURTS AND NEEDS.

THUS MARK SHOWS US THE WAY OF ALL THOSE WHO FOLLOW THE TRUE SHEPHERD; TO BE THE INSTRUMENTS OF GOD’S GRACE AND COMPASSION IN THE MIDST OF AND IN OPPOSITION TO THE WAY OF THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD. TO FOLLOW THE TRUE SHEPHERD MEANS WE MUST GO IN THE WAY HE LEADS US, AND THAT IS THE WAY OF LOVE AND COMPASSION FOR THOSE WHO ARE POWERLESS, WEAK, IN NEED, SICK, OR POOR; TO CARE FOR THOSE WHOM NO ONE ELSE CARES ABOUT. TO DO THIS MEANS MUCH MORE THAN JUST PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM’S ARRIVAL AND TEACHING OTHERS ABOUT JESUS; IT REQUIRES BOTH THE WORDS OF JESUS AND THE ACTIONS OF JESUS. THE COMPASSION OF THE TRUE SHEPHERD ADDRESSES BOTH THE SPIRITUAL AND PHYSICAL NEEDS OF THE FLOCK. THE WAY OF THE TRUE SHEPHERD IS THE WAY OF GIVING OURSELVES TO THOSE IN NEED, EVEN AT GREAT COST TO OURSELVES. IT IS THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE WAY IN WHICH JESUS LEADS US; IT IS IN THIS WAY THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD OVERCOMES THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD ONE PERSON AT A TIME. THIS IS THE WAY OF THE CHRIST.
AMEN

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