8 Pentecost, July 19

Today’s gospel is an incidence of poor selection. Those who constructed the Revised Common Lectionary have gutted the reading, and will jump from Mark to John on a succeeding Sunday to supply the story of Jesus’ feeding the 5,000. We must work with what we have.

The disciples have returned from their mission to announce God’s kingdom and to restore people to mental and physical health by casting out demons. Their experience must have been terribly demanding. It is hard for us even to contemplate being sent out into surrounding communities to tell about Jesus and his kingdom and to heal and restore. We call that evangelizing, and that’s something we prefer to leave to other denominations.

First reading and psalm: Jer. 23:1-6Ps. 23
Alternate: 2 Sam. 7:1-14aPs. 89:20-37
Eph. 2:11-22Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The disciples report back. They are exhausted and Jesus suggests what we might call a group retreat. Off they go across the lake — an experience to add to the nervous toll on at least some of them — to a “deserted place” on the other side. When they arrive, a great crowd has rushed around the side of the lake and is waiting for them, eager for Jesus and his disciples to minister to their real needs: “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

How Jesus demonstrated compassion on them is recounted in the following verses omitted from today’s gospel. Instead the story picks up with Jesus and his disciples trying again to escape, this time to a place inhabited largely by non-Jews, by people unlikely to be at all interested in a Jewish teacher. Wrong. They brought the sick on mats, and wherever he went the sick filled the marketplaces.

Then as now, needy people seek relief. They seek someone or something that will put things right. Jesus did not dismiss real needs. Nor should we. However, as the missing section tells, our needs are only finally met by Jesus becoming an intimate presence in our lives, by which we change from neediness to discipleship. To be fed by Jesus does not mean to be sated with personal fulfillment, but to lose our lives in Jesus and his mission. Needy religion often devolves into a vague regard for God, a great attention to our physical needs, and the adoption of a fragile, self-centered religion.

The exhausted disciples sought rest and refreshment. Instead they were moved with Jesus into even more intensive ministry. The crowds needed a sort of national health service. Instead they were offered Jesus. Here again there would develop rejection, that haunting story beneath the stories of the gospel. Those who could not go from neediness to discipleship will call for Jesus’ death. In that narrative there’s a constant warning for us all.

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Look It Up
Read Mark 6:35-52.

Think About It
What role might gratitude play in a needy person becoming a disciple?

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