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

 


YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED THAT THE GOSPEL READING IS SPLIT, AND YOU CAN SEE THIS BY LOOKING AT YOUR LESSON INSERTS. JUST HEARING THE GOSPEL READ IS SOMEWHAT CONFUSING; THEY ARE IN THE BOAT, OUT OF THE BOAT, IN THE BOAT AGAIN, THEN OUT OF THE BOAT. IT ALMOST SOUNDS LIKE A LAURAL AND HARDY ROUTINE. WHAT IS LEFT OUT BY THE DESIGNERS OF THE LECTIONARY IS THE FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND, BECAUSE WE WILL HEAR THAT NEXT SUNDAY FROM THE LONGER VERSION IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. TO READ THAT AS IT IS FOUND IN MARK WOULD SHIFT THE EMPHASIS OF THE PASSAGE TO THE LOAVES AND FISHES AWAY FROM THE EMPHASIS OF JESUS AS THE GOOD SHEPHERD.

THE DISCIPLES HAVE JUST RETURNED FROM THEIR MISSION OF TEACHING, HEALING, AND CASTING OUT DEMONS, AND THEY MUST HAVE BEEN OVER THE MOON IN THEIR EXCITEMENT OVER WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. HERE, FOR THE FIRST TIME, THEY ARE REFERED TO AS THE APOSTLES, WHICH MEANS THOSE SENT OUT IN THE NAME OF ANOTHER; AND IT IMPLIES THAT IT REFERS TO THE TWELVE AND NOT THE SEVENTY SENT OUT. JESUS TRIES TO CALM THEM DOWN, AND GET THEM TO REST IN A DESERTED PLACE, SO THEY GET INTO THE BOAT TO FIND A QUIET COVE ON THE SEA OF GALLILEE. JESUS CARES FOR THEM JUST AS A SHEPHERD WOULD CARE FOR HIS SHEEP, GIVING THEM REST AND FOOD. THIS WAS NOT TO BE, AS THE PEOPLE SAW THEM IN THE BOAT, AND FROM ALL THE TOWNS AND VILLAGES ON THE WEST SHORE OF GALLILEE, RACED AHEAD OF THE BOAT TO BE THERE WHEN THEY CAME TO SHORE.

SEEING THE GREAT CROWD, JESUS HAD COMPASSION ON THEM; THIS WAS NOT PITY, BUT HE FELT THEIR NEED IN HIS GUTS, BECAUSE THEY WERE LIKE SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD. IN HIS COMPASSION HE GAVE THEM WHAT THEY NEEDED; HE BEGAN TO TEACH THEM MANY THINGS. LATER, AS THE SUN WAS SETTING AND THEY REFUSED TO DISPERSE, HE FED THE FIVE THOUSAND WITH THE FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISH. AGAIN, LIKE A SHEPHERD, HE CARED FOR HIS SHEEP AND GAVE THEM WHAT THEY NEEDED.

THE METAPHOR OF THE SHEPHERD IS A VERY POWERFUL ONE IN THE STORY OF ISRAEL. GOD IS THE SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL, AS THE PSALMIST DECLARES, AND THE PRIESTS, PROPHETS, AND KINGS OF ISAREL ARE THE UNDER-SHEPHERDS WHO ARE TO CARE FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE NAME OF THE LORD GOD. THE CONTRAST WITH THE STORY OF HEROD’S DINNER PARTY FOR THE RICH AND POWERFUL, WHO THOUGHT ONLY OF THEIR SELVES AND THEIR PLEASURE, EVEN TO THE MURDER OF JOHN THE BAPTIST, CAN NOT BE MORE CLEAR. HERE IS THE TRUE SHEPHERD WHO CARES FOR HIS SHEEP, AND BY HIS BEHAVIOR TEACHES THOSE WHO FOLLOW HIM HOW TO CARE FOR THE SHEEP OF GOD.

AFTER THE GREAT CROWD IS FED, JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES GET BACK INTO THE BOAT TO CROSS THE LAKE TO THE OTHER SIDE, BUT AGAIN ARE RECOGNIZED. THE PEOPLE OF THAT REGION RUSHED ABOUT TO BRING THE SICK ON MATS TO WHEREVER THEY HEARD HE WAS, AND LAID THEM IN THE MARKET PLACE TO BE HEALED. THE MARKET PLACE, OR THE AGORA, WAS THE CENTER OF TOWN LIFE, WHERE GOODS AND FOOD WERE BOUGHT AND SOLD, WHERE CONTRACTS WERE SIGNED, LEGAL JUDGMENTS GIVEN, AND THE SEAT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT. IN THE MIDST OF THE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND GOVERNMENT CENTER OF POWER, THE KINGDOM OF GOD BREAKS FORTH, AND THE SALVATION OF GOD IS MADE KNOWN. THE TRUE SHEPHERD CALLS AND CARES FOR HIS SHEEP IN THE MIDST OF THE PLACES WHERE NO ONE ELSE CARES FOR THEM OR EVEN WANTS TO SEE THEM.

MANY YEARS AGO, LONG BEFORE I WAS CALLED TO THE MINISTRY, I KNEW A YOUNG MAN, A FEW YEARS YOUNGER THAN MYSELF, WHO WOULD SPEND HIS WEEKENDS IN THE CENTER OF TOWN PREACHING THE GOSPEL ON A STREET CORNER. OF COURSE, AT THE TIME I THOUGHT HE WAS A NUT CASE IN SPITE OF HIS CLEAR DEVOTION TO JESUS. HE WAS OFTEN RUN OFF BY THE LOCAL BUSINESS OWNERS, AND SOMETIMES BY THE POLICE, BUT HE PERSISTED. I QUESTIONED HIM AS TO WETHER HE WAS DOING ANY GOOD, OR JUST BEING A FOOL. HE TOLD ME THAT MOST PEOPLE JUST IGNORED HIM, BUT, EVERY NOW AND AGAIN, SOMEONE WOULD STOP TO LISTEN, AND, IN LISTENING, THEY JUST MIGHT HEAR. IN MY MATURE YEARS, I CAN NOW SEE THAT HE WAS DOING JUST WHAT JESUS DID; TAKING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD TO THE WORLD THAT SO SORELY NEEDS TO HEAR IT. THE BRITISH BIBLE TEACHER, WILLIAM BARCLAY, COMMENTING ON OUR GOSPEL READING SAID; “The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving people in the market place.” [William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 157]

THIS, THEN, IS THE RHYTHM OF LIFE TO WHICH WE ARE CALLED, TO BE ALONE WITH JESUS IN OUR PRAYERS AND DEVOTIONS, TO MEET HIM IN THE STUDY OF HIS WORD, TO MEET WITH HIM IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS OTHER DISCIPLES WHO SIT BESIDE US EACH SUNDAY, TO MEET HIM IN THE BREAD AND THE WINE WHICH NOURISHES AND STRENGTHENS US, AND THEN TO GO OUT TO THE BUSY AND HECTIC WORLD TO PROCLAIM THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH COMES DESCENDING ON THE WORLD IN HIS KINGDOM BY THE LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS. BY GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT, WE ARE CALLED TO BE UNDER-SHEPHERDS FOR THE SHEEP OF GOD, AND WE FIND THEM IN THE MARKET PLACE, IN THE HOSPITAL, AT THE RESCUE MISSION, IN THE PRISONS, AND AT THE DOOR OF OUR CHURCH AS THEY COME FOR A SIMPLE SANDWICH. WE ARE CALLED TO CARE FOR THEM, TO MEET THEIR NEEDS, TO LOVE THEM AND CARE FOR THEM, JUST AS OUR TRUE SHEPHERD LOVES AND CARES FOR US.
THIS IS OUR LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
AMEN