By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 6:30-46
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered 5,000 men.
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
Probably we’ve all had moments when we’ve just had it — we’ve used up every drop of ourselves. Even if it’s been on good work, the moment when we can finally rest, even if it just means being able to sit down, is practically sacred. Probably, we’ve all also experienced having that moment jolted away from us by one more thing we have to do. Having small children, I experience this almost daily.
So imagine how I felt reading today’s gospel and somehow realizing for the first time the context: Jesus has sent the apostles out to minister, and they’ve been so busy that they haven’t even had time to eat. They come back to Jesus spent and hungry. The mission was exciting, but now they need a break. But the crowds follow them, and no one except one boy is smart enough to bring food. I can only imagine how the apostles feel when Jesus tells them to feed these people. I would have started crying from hunger and exhaustion and the impossibility of what he asks.
Yet this is the best known, most beloved of Jesus’ miracles. It comes when he and his apostles have nothing left to give. When it’s passed, Jesus will send them out over the water, and Jesus himself will retreat, alone, to pray. Refreshment is at hand, but first, lest they think that God’s grace is dependent on even the most basic self-care for them to access it, Jesus will feed them and 5,000 besides, leaving 12 baskets of leftovers. This is what I (try to) remember when I think I’ve carved out a few moments for myself only for some little person to need something. As vital as refreshment is to the spiritual life, Jesus can still meet us, and provide abundance for us, when we’re tapped out.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Joseph of Arimathea, Hendersonville, Tenn.
The Diocese of Delhi (Church of North India)