We’ve been looking in such minute detail at some of these
excerpts from Mark this year
working our way, as the lectionary always does
from birth to Easter and beyond.
Sometimes its easy to lose the forest for the trees
the larger picture for the detail that dwelling so closely offers.
So I decided this week to re-read things a bit
and I noticed something that was new to me:
The sixth chapter of Mark involves a lot of eating.
The chapter opens with the rejection of Jesus in his home town,
where his good intentions were questioned and put under the microscope.
What kind of religious voice is this?
Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?
What good is he?
And this poses the question for the whole chapter:
Just who is this Jesus? And why should you care?
And Mark, the author, who is crafting this story for us,
describes Jesus next commissioning his disciples
to go out and to serve the people:
But you might have missed it…I sure did my first reading:
they went out with nothing except a walking stick:
no bag, no money…and, importantly, no bread.
That comes first in the list, actually:
“He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff;
no bread, no bag, no money in their belts….”
Jesus, in other words,
sent the apostles out to eat with people.
They were traveling two by two,
from town to town,
knocking on doors, entering homes…
sharing meals with strangers, at least those who welcomed them in,
healing the sick in their midst,
and announcing to all whom they met that the Kingdom of God
has come near.
This was a community-building exercise
and the community being built was God’s community.
Go out, be with people in your community, in the place where you are sent.
And through this outreach, they talked and taught about
the indwelling of God’s way of life
fully becoming OUR way of life.
So that is scene one.
Then we have this odd middle scene
that I didn’t preach about last week,
in part because its bloody and soap-operaish
and while that makes for really great TV
it doesn’t always preach very well.
But there’s something for us to pay attention to:
In this second scene,
King Herod is hosting a lavish dinner party
various dignitaries and military officials.
People that matter, or so the world might say.
These aren’t the people out in the villages.
These aren’t the scavengers on the Galilean countryside.
You can be assured that those who are gathered in King Herod’s court
likely didn’t spend one fleeting second wondering where their
next loaf of bread would come from
or whether they could sleep safely that evening
free from violence or thieves.
The juxtaposition is important.
One minute the King and his entourage are gathered around the table
enjoying royal banquet fare and the evening’s entertainment,
and the next thing they know,
Herod’s wife has demanded the head of John the Baptist.
Literally, the head, on a platter.
I don’t know: sounds like a surefire way to ruin a party to me…
It turns out John had been quite vocal in denouncing
Herod’s marriage to his half-brother Philip’s wife,
and apparently she didn’t take kindly to it.
So, both to impress his guests and appease his wife, Herod grants her wish.
And despite the fact that he was a little bit distressed about this decision,
he still couldn’t resist having the prize-topped platter
paraded around his dinner party…
a statement of his power to end the evening.
And then, just as quickly as we entered that somewhat macabre scene
we’re flung back to the backwater, no name, hungry and yearning world
where Jesus is.
Our text today picks up right after this second scene of
power politics and murderous jealousy and gluttonous excess.
The apostles, returning home from their rigorous travel schedule,
two by two, meeting people and breaking bread together
healing and helping where they are welcome
the apostles are sharing their experiences with Jesus.
They recount the number of houses who invited them in.
The meals shared.
The relationships made.
The hearts opened.
The lives transformed.
Maybe they also recount their rejections.
The number of houses who turned them away.
The doors slammed in their faces.
The missed opportunities.
The shaking of dust from their shoes.
We don’t know whether there were any who did this, of course.
The text only tells us that they cast out many unclean spirits
and healed many people, so we’ve heard of their success.
Either way, they know, the message is the same:
the kingdom of God has come near.
They witnessed their own hands healing the sick, anointing with oil,
demonstrating power like they’ve never known before. Their own hands.
They felt their feet throb with each mile covered.
They used their own lips to share the teachings of Jesus and proclaim the good news. They were involved.
And they feel… what?…
Like a Somebody? Somebody Significant?
Astonished? Amazed? Alive? …or was it all just plain overwhelming?
Because the truth of the matter is this: there are hungry people everywhere:
Some, like Herod, are hungry for power and prestige.
Some are hungry for wholeness and healing.
Some are literally hungry for bread.
And some are just plain hungry for more, whatever more may be.
So when our passage opens, needless to say, the disciples are tired.
When Jesus invites them to go away with Him
to a deserted place and rest for a while,
I imagine they were thankful for the chance to escape
escape to a quieter place and slower pace.
But the crowds don’t cooperate.
Instead of allowing them their get-away escape,
they press in on them from every side.
And suddenly, this deserted destination they intended to visit…
isn’t deserted anymore.
It’s overflowing with herds of people…
herds of people who were so much like shepherd-less sheep,
And Jesus does what Jesus does:
Jesus was immediately filled with compassion for them
and began teaching them many, many things. All. Day. Long.
And eventually, the sun begins to set
and bellies begin to growl,
and the disciples point out that people are hungry.
They’re in the middle of no where, a deserted place.
There’s no fast food restaurant out here. No quik-trip. No McDonalds.
No roadside stand to offer provisions.
That’s why the text tells us it is deserted.
The disciples offer a very practical suggestion: send them home so they can eat.
This entire chapter has been about eating,
about the basic way our lives revolve around food.
Our need for it. What we do when we hunger for it.
How we sometimes act shamefully when we have it in such abundance
that it goes to our head.
And this most basic, most widely known of Jesus’ miracles
set up by a full day’s teaching by an exhausted Jesus
and his exhausted disciples
all of whom sense that the class should be coming to an end
and they should all just go home now, thank you very much for coming….
What comes next, many of us remember:
“No. You give them something to eat.” Says Jesus.
And despite having recently reported back to Jesus
how empowered they were to command demons
and cure the sick while traveling about two by two,
the disciples now balk at the prospect,
they look at the crowds and only see problems too many to count.
The reality was this: Feeding those people
was going to require more resources than they had available to them.
It was too much. It was too hard.
But Jesus kept pressing them:
How many loaves have you? Go and see.
And here’s where the story gets interesting, of course:
They went and found out: Five loaves.
Five thousand families filling the fields in front of them,
and they have five little loaves…and a couple of fish.
Then Jesus takes the 5 loaves and the 2 fish,
and he acknowledges that they are Gifts from God.
He looks up, gives thanks, then breaks the bread.
And having broken the bread,
he distributes it to the disciples to set before the people.
And likewise with the fish.
Jesus not only feeds the hungry and hurting,
he involves his followers in doing so too.
When all was said and done that night,
the disciples knew they couldn’t take credit for what had taken place,
because they also knew who was really responsible for the miracle witnessed.
In God’s hands, five loaves and two fish were transformed
from a meager meal into a filling feast…
with the leftovers to feed many others 1– 2- 3- 4- 5… 12 baskets full!
This amazing, baffling, awe-inspiring Jesus.
This Jesus who never stops challenging us
but who always provides for us what, deep down, we really need.
This Jesus who sent his followers out on a journey of deep trust:
take nothing…but your meal will be provided for you
go, serve, trust….
That Jesus, here showing those very disciples once again
that, in God’s realm, no one will go hungry
no one will feel the pain of thirst
no one will be left out or excluded or pushed aside
I once read a great summary of what is going on here
by the wonderful preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor,
who put it this way:[i]
Stop staring at the crowd;
go look at your loaves! How many do you have?
Any answer will do.
Now follow the leader.
Take what you have—whatever you have—
take it into your hands and hold it lightly, very lightly.
Then bless it—thank God for what you have
and make it holy by giving it away for love.
Then break it—sorry, but you have to tear it up to share it,
there is no way to keep it all in one nice piece.
And finally, give it—
to whoever is standing in front of you, beside you—
spread it around,
and never mind
that there does not seem to be enough for everyone.
It is not up to you to feed the whole crowd,
to solve the whole problem,
or to fix the whole world.
It is up to you just to share what you have got,
to feed whatever big or little hunger
that happens to be standing right in front of you.
The rest will come.
Because God is God, the rest will come.
For now, for your part, how many loaves have you?
Go and see.”
This Kirk has always had a heart for service, for mission
for outreach. We’ve gathered food for Grace Community Ministries
We’ve packed and stocked and shelved at Harvesters.
We’ve cooked casseroles for Cherith Brook.
We’re beginning to explore how we can strengthen
the lives of children and their families in our neighborhood.
I think all of that is because we’ve sensed what is basic, what is foundational,
in Jesus’ call to discipleship:
Bring me what you have:
lets bless it, and lets give it to the hungry of the world.
Sometimes it is really easy to think that we don’t have enough to matter
that we aren’t a big enough community
or that, individually, I might be not well trained
or not smart enough, or not spiritual enough, or not experienced enough.
But the word of the gospel is this: Christ says, bring me what you have,
and I will do the rest…
And when touched by Jesus’s hands
the five loaves and two fish we bring….can feed THOUSANDS.
How beautiful is that? How absolutely beautiful is that?
Today we have the joy of welcoming a few new members to our fold.
Each one gifted and equipped in God’s unique way to love and to serve.
Its an opportunity for the rest of us to remember this crazy, audacious,
joyful gift God gives us: a reminder that we are enough
to make a difference in this world.
And as we look into God’s future
may we continue to trust that God’s world is a world of abundance
and can take what we are
and what we bring
and make them life-giving to the world.
May it be so.
[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, Mixed Blessings, (Rowman and Littlefield: Linham, Maryland) 1998. p.96.
Image: Bread vender in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala, 2010.