by Ken Francis
(Based on Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56, Ps 23, Eph 2:11-22)
I’ll be reflecting on these verses from Mark, which seem at first to be all about healing and miracles … which is daunting! But looking at the supporting Scriptures – the psalm and the Epistle readings – and at the Mark passage again, it’s also about shepherding – especially Jesus accepting his role as a shepherd.
Let’s consider the Psalm first – Psalm 23 … so well known to us, and sometimes known as the Shepherd’s Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd”! Is he your shepherd? Probably most of us can claim and own the opening line:
“The Lord is my shepherd”!
I started preparing this at the same time as I was putting together that PowerPoint for Bruce’s seminar on Bonhoeffer last week, and I was looking at footage of Adolf Hitler’s speeches at the same time as I was thinking of the Lord being my shepherd, and it struck me, you couldn’t get a greater contrast between Hitler as a leader and Jesus. Hitler, in all his frenzy and mania and bankrupt views, and … “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness. ….” Until we read, “My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me …”
Thank you, Jesus, for being our shepherd, and all that goes with that. Amen?
So, then we read in Mark about Jesus being a shepherd to his people. (“He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”) But not quite an enthusiastic one, it seems! He was hounded by demanding crowds, with barely time to recover, regain his strength, regain that power that left him when he healed.
When I was given this Gospel reading as my text I thought I was going to have to commentate on the feeding of the five thousand. But, no, did you notice? The reading skips that event. And focusses on the before and after, which is really cool. The entrée and the after dinner mints. Earlier in the Gospel – in Chapter 5, actually – we’ve seen Jesus heal a woman who touched his hem, raise Jairus’s daughter from death. And he was turning people’s laughter and scorn to astonishment and awe. And celebrity.
Now, in Chapter 6 the crowds are pursuing him. [Except in Nazareth! Where he was “without honour”.]
The twelve have been sent out, and “they … drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” Jesus has been sharing out his power with them, the disciples, as perhaps a good shepherd and leader should do.
Incidentally, I’m not going to say much about the Ephesians reading, but its thrust is that we Gentiles have also become part of the shepherd’s flock – part of his household, it says, in which he is the cornerstone.
But let me focus on the Markian piece. The disciples gather around Jesus, their shepherd, from their field trip, no doubt excited and flushed with their recent successes. Jesus is delighted for them and says, let’s slip away, and debrief. But they can’t get away from the crowds, who … Jesus and the disciples slipped away by boat, but the crowd raced around the shore and were waiting for them when they landed. I’m trying to imagine what the clamour must have been like. The Pied Piper of Hamlin comes to mind – the crowds are scampering after Jesus, the celebrity – in fact, like children after Mr Whippy. Or like those huge crowds that gathered when the Beatles came to Wellington in 1964!
The NZ History’s website says, “Seven thousand screaming fans waited as the band touched down … [on the Gallilean shore?] A team of 30 police officers, some in plain clothes, was on hand. One officer later said that: ‘We underestimated the whole thing badly. The crowd was so big we had to … keep all the people behind a wire fence. At one stage it looked like the fence would collapse.’ As the band stepped out of the boat [ok, I’m using a bit of preacher licence here!], the shrieks of fans drowned out the noise of the turbo prop engines.
The Beatles waved to fans who lined the roads from the airport to town. The crowds outside their hotel were so large that the Beatles had to be taken in secretly through the bottle shop entrance of the hotel. It was mayhem.
Well, you get the idea. And this was the sort of scene Jesus and his band were experiencing wherever they went.
And on this particular occasion they had to feed them all!
Afterwards they tried to escape again – that’s when we get the incident where Jesus came to them in the middle of the lake – in the night – walking on the water!
But as soon as they landed, the crowd was there again. And throughout the days that followed. “They ran throughout that whole region, carrying the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, they brought the sick … They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak …”
All this healing and miracle-working. How great would it be to experience it today. But I can’t help noticing that Jesus was mostly a reluctant healer. Why do I say that? Not because he didn’t care – on the contrary. But, how often we read the lines – and we last had them in Chap 5:43 – “He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this”. Why was that – I’ve often wondered … and there are various theories. Practically speaking, it might have been simply that, as a man, he realised he couldn’t cope with demand, if word got out. Plus, perhaps the demand for signs and wonders threatened to hijack the higher purposes of his mission.
But we get a more substantial answer from God’s treatment of Job. Have you read the story of Job? You may recall that, once Job pours his heart out before God and very reasonably asks for why he is suffering so, God kind of blasts him! He says, in essence, “Who do you think you are, Job? Do you know who I am? I’m the one who …” and he lists multiple aspects of his creation. What God doesn’t do is answer Job’s plaintive question, and it’s clear He wants Job to love and honour and serve him because of who he is – not for what he does for Job! And I think Jesus thought similarly. He wanted people to follow him for who he was and what he came to do – to save men and women from their sins – not just for the spectacle. He knew these crowds mostly wanted to see the spectacle, to clamour after the Piper … and ‘get their healings’ however they came. He knew these people would not endure once the healings stopped. And once he was gone. He felt these signs and wonders were the side show – not the main event. That, I think, is why he tried to play them down, and that is why I think, to a certain extent, he was a reluctant healer.
A reluctant healer? Probably more a reluctant celebrity healer. But a very willing and determined and gracious shepherd, who wants us to put our trust in him, and to follow him – love him – just simply for who he is: the saviour of our souls. So, in conclusion – and here’s today’s takeaway – I suggest we don’t clamour for the spectacular – or be disillusioned if we don’t see the healings, five thousand people being fed, or anyone walking on water. Rather, let’s enjoy being part of his flock. Embrace the fact, the wonderful truth, that “The Lord is my shepherd”! All of us – the Lord is our shepherd. Hallelujah.
Let’s take this notion with us into the coming week.