ON THE Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, the lectionary used for the church diverges into two possible selections for our gospel reading of the day. One begins with Saint Mark’s telling of Jesus’ desire to get the tired disciples away for rest, and ends with our Lord feeding thousands of people who had followed him. The second reading, which we have here, begins the same way but skips the feeding miracle. The text jumps forward to focus upon our Lord’s healing of persons gathered before him on the far shore. However, even given this difference, further examination of scripture reveals that a common theological thread is expressed. The message verifies that as Christians, we often do seem like sheep who have no shepherd. In demonstrating this, we offer the latter reading…
The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, 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 lonely place by themselves. Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well. (Mark 6:30-34, and 53-56)
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Of Scattered Mind…
Our lectionary selections thus speak of our needing to be healed… of our walking and working in Christian faith but with a scattered and even schizoid personality. As disciples we seem like our forebears... pressed so hard that we are beside ourselves. We sinfully try to do ministry all by ourselves. We want to be right in all things… to be gods in our own day. As we begin our reading, therefore, we need to collectively ask, “What do we have in common? The answer Mark offers is that we need to be gathered. Our Lord determined to have his harried disciples gather, rest and recuperate from their holy mission.
However, in one reading for the day (Mark 6:30-44), the gospel writer related that Jesus found the disciples to be tired, but soon was surrounded by those who were even without adequate food to sustain themselves. The people were scattered in lean pastures, starved for righteousness in a sinful world that had been very busy consuming itself. He saw the people, all people… just as they were, as sheep mulling aimlessly and stubbornly about without a shepherd. He suffered over them, knowing that the powers of the temple and high prophets of profit had failed them. We are reminded of God’s warning to those who work as such amid such scattered flocks, failing to achieve proper gathering. God had warned…
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:1-4)
In reading this text, therefore, it seems we find evidence that through millennia we confused guides still haven’t changed very much. Today's lectionary deviation seems to indicate that we are yet divided.
Does this mean that all should agree, all the time? Is it possible for us? I believe that since we are persons who are simultaneously sinners and saints, striving alone in this world brings us to a place where we cannot. Even at our best, we must first be unified by the Spirit to be forgiven so to proclaim the message of salvation and minister properly according to our talents. Sadly, however, we fight the Spirit and tout that our path, our reading… is the only way to please God.
Historically then, Mark revealed to his churches what the Spirit would have us know. First ponder that some Christian churches, whether anchored in the history of Mark’s day or called to mission in our own… are called in their own way to do as they are skilled in ministry. Scripture rightly interpreted provides all that is needed. Some churches will join together like the first reading, on the hillside to feed those who are hungering to be taught and fed the Word of God. In the same way, other faith communities will gather to cross rough seas and recollect their baptisms. There they shall teach and heal those who are sick and languishing in the marketplaces. In each, through no credit of our own... and in spite of our sinfulness… the will of God shall be miraculously accomplished.
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In Gathered Purpose…
Take due note here! Proper proclamation shall occur not by our own cooperative efforts, for we are indeed yet sinners kneeling before the cross for forgiveness. We need always remember that we are made saints by the Spirit, saved only through the gift of eternal life given through Christ Jesus our Lord. Consequently, we need the Spirit's power to be made one! Even amid this present dichotomy, God’s will shall yet be fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit working miraculously through his scattered church. Going back to the beginning of Mark, therefore needing constant reminder… we are taught to perceive again the central mission of Jesus…
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
I ask, do we need we be reminded that “gospel” means “good news”? Yes, we need be reminded and proclaim this message again and again! This is the centrality of the gospel, and the feeding and healing shall follow appropriately. Indeed upon the hill where 5000 were fed and upon the shore where many persons were healed, the kingdom of God was first surely “at hand”. We need merely to join together and tell all who will listen… that those persons who stood near Jesus asking be fed or begging to be healed… needed only to turn from sin and believe that the Prince of Peace stood right there in front of them. All they needed to do was to reach out and touch the hem of his Righteousness… his holy garment! By doing so,… they would be lifted up by the Spirit.
This is the message of blessed Mark given to us no matter our divergence. We are called as shepherds to gather those scattered. With prayers uttered, even our sheepish scattering in modern church service lectionary nor foolish wandering from gospel proclamation toward social justice... will shear away the power from the good news. God’s love is indeed given through Christ Jesus our Lord and that is the message which most certainly unites, feeds and heals us all. Let us follow the Good Shepherd for we are the sheep of his pasture. Thanks be to God!
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May the blessings of the Holy Spirit be with you!