Gospel: Mark 6:30-44 (Pentecost 8: Series B)
Because Jesus turns desolate, dying places into holy landscapes of life.
At the end of our reading, Mark offers us a picture of disciples cleaning up after Jesus. Normally, clean up is a chore. You have a party on the back porch that goes late into the night. Rather than clean up before you go to bed, you wait until morning. But cleaning up after Jesus is a different matter. It is not a chore. It is a moment of exhausted, holy wonder.
Mark invites us to see the disciples, wandering on a hillside, picking up bits of bread. Evening has come, the crowds have gone home, and in the approaching dusk they bend over to gather the broken pieces. They did not come here to pick up bread, but they find themselves doing it anyway. In fact, they had traveled far to get away from the crowds who came needing healing (verse 31). It is not that they did not care about the sick. They did. They had spent a long time serving and offering healing (verses 7-13). But there comes a moment when you need to take time for yourself, to get away for rest and recuperation. And this is what Jesus commanded. He took His disciples by boat to a solitary place for rest (verse 32), for a moment to be by themselves and eat.
The only problem is the sick always seem to have perfect vision. Their bodies might be diseased, but their hearts know where there is healing, and they followed that speck of a Lord on the sea by walking and carrying their sick along the shore (verse 33). When the disciples arrived, they found over 5,000 had gathered. Relying on their reason, they noticed the approaching dusk and asked Jesus to turn them away. He said, “Feed them” (verses 35-37). Relying on their resources they said it was impossible. And He said, “Tell them to be seated” (verses 37-39). Now, as dusk approaches, here are these men, tired and in need of rest, picking up bread and putting it in baskets.
Because here, at the end of the day, at the end of their strength, at the end of their reason, and at the end of their resources, Jesus has brought the beginning of life. Life beyond their ways. Life beyond their imagination. Life has been found. So, they bow down to gather up every single crumb because they know they are walking on holy ground. Holy ground? A desolate place of sickness and hunger? Yes. Because Jesus turns desolate, dying places into holy landscapes of life.
Here, at the end of the day, at the end of their strength, at the end of their reason, and at the end of their resources, Jesus has brought the beginning of life.
Our Christian life is filled with places like that, you know, places of dying where Jesus brings landscapes of life. You cannot plan your discipleship. You cannot go out there and plan all the situations you encounter so you are always playing to your strengths. You find yourself involved in situations which are beyond your knowledge. They force you to stop and wonder how you could ever do this. You care for your mom who has increasing dementia. You raise a child with developmental disabilities. You find yourself down at the police station picking up your son who has his second DUI. You do not know what to say or what to do. God’s work is like that. You are not always in control. But in these dying places, our Lord brings life.
Jesus Christ has come to bring life. Not only to those who are well, He has come for the sick and the dying. When Mark records the crucifixion of Jesus, he tells his readers the name of the place: Golgotha. He even translates it: “Which means Place of a Skull” (15:22). Christ enters the halls of death because He knows they lead to life. He bears the curse of death and then He rises from the dead to bring us the blessing of life. Abundant life. Life that goes beyond our strength, beyond our reason, beyond our resources. Life that litters our landscape with the leftover crumbs of blessing and leaves us picking up the pieces, holding on to moments of wonder we never knew could happen.
A seminarian tells of a time when he was there in a drug-dependency unit with a fourteen-year-old boy... fourteen years old... and in a drug dependency unit. With tears in his eyes, the seminarian says, “There I was. I didn’t know what to say, so I just told him the story of Jesus... and you know, I thought, this is crazy... I’m just a farmer out here!” He had come to the seminary from a farm in Iowa and God brought him into a drug dependency unit to be with a fourteen-year-old boy. Yes, he is just a farmer. But he has a faithful God, a God who takes His disciples into places of dying so they might experience the landscape of life.
No place, no person, no life situation is so utterly desolate that Jesus cannot break bread there, leaving crumbs for us to pick up at the end of the day. So, with humble hearts filled with a holy awe, we do not leave the desolate places of this world. We do not dismiss those who are sick or hungering or in need of rest. Instead, we enter these places to serve these people, knowing that, at the end of the day, we will be on holy ground. You will find us wandering the hillside, as the day draws to a close, picking up the pieces, bowing in exhausted holy wonder, as we clean up after Jesus.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 6:30-44.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 6:30-44.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Walter Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 6:30-44.