Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
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.(Read the whole passage here)
The crowds are unavoidable today. Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus has been growing in popularity with the common people, the crowds. Jesus has debated and argued with the pharisees about the undivided house, he has surprised and terrified the disciples by calming the storm, he has broken down barriers by healing both rich and powerful Jairus’s daughter and the poor outcast woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. But today, it is the crowds who finally get what they want — and they want Jesus.
The crowds are too much. They are chaotic and unrelenting. They are grabbing at Jesus and his disciples. They want more and more and more. There is almost too much to do, too many sick people to heal, too many exorcisms to perform, too many needs and too little time.
The crowds are clamouring for healing… they are demanding something from an exhausted Jesus and his disciples. The disciples have just returned from the mission that Jesus sent them on two weeks ago. They are excited with stories of exorcisms and healing, but they are also tired. And they have gotten into the boat with Jesus to find a quiet place. Yet, the crowds still follow them along the shore.
The crowds have one thing in mind. Miracles.
They are looking for a miracle from Jesus, as if he was a heavenly vending machine.
The vending machine God in the sky is an image for God that still persists today. In TV and movies, people turn to God when they need something. They offer up desperate prayers like quarters being dropped in a slot. Prayers prefaced by some admittance like, “If you are out there God, I don’t pray much, but I really need something now, so if you can just…” (fill in the blank).
This is certainly a prevailing image of God in today’s world. And while as people of faith, we would like to think we are beyond such simplistic and self-centred approaches to God… we can get narrowly focused on God too.
We can get bogged down by our need for healing, for an end to our suffering, for a fix for our brokenness. Our prayers can become self-centred and our relationship with God can become focused on relief and release from our problems. We look to God as individuals and as communities as the great band-aid dispenser in the sky.
As the crowds are desperate for Jesus today, Mark tells us that Jesus has compassion for them.
A word that evokes images of kindness and tender heartedness.
A word that is more then gentleness and caring, but that truly means to suffer with.
Jesus has compassion for them. But not for their woes and hurts and pains. It isn’t their blindness, or lameness, or sickness that moved Jesus.
Jesus has compassion for them, because they are like sheep without a shepherd.
And his response is to teach them many things.
To teach them that same message he has been preaching since first few verses of Mark’s Gospel. The oldest words that we know of that are attributed to Jesus:
The Kingdom of God is near to you. Be transformed in heart and mind and believe.
Jesus does not respond in the way the crowds were hoping. And Jesus doesn’t respond to our cries for healing in the way we hope either.
Instead, Jesus sees our individual sufferings and needs as part of a larger problem. Jesus sees how we are all weighed down by sin and death. How the blindness of one is the same as the lameness of the other. And there simply isn’t enough to heal each one. And healing in itself isn’t enough. Even the ones healed by Jesus are dead now.
Jesus’s compassion for us does not exclude a concern for our pain and suffering… but it is rooted in the fact that we are lost. We are shepherd-less. We need so much more than to be healed.
As Jesus sees the crowds pressing in on him, as tired as he is, he has compassion on them. They are like sheep without a shepherd.
They are focused on coming to God with our specific expectations. Their specific demands. Their need to be healed. Their need to be helped. Their desire to be fixed.
They can’t see Jesus beyond their problems.
And some days we can’t see Jesus beyond our problems. We aren’t just like the crowds. We are the crowds pressing in. We need a shepherd… and Jesus has compassion for us.
And that means Jesus has come to give us what we need and not what we want.
And what we need is a Shepherd who will gather us together. What we need us someone to teach us, to tell us of the Good News of God coming into our world. What we need is the intimacy and love of community. We don’t need our suffering to be taken away… because we know that it can never fully taken away. What we need is to know that we are not alone, that our suffering is shared.
And that is what Jesus’s compassion is all about. It is not a magical cure for our problems, it is a not a televangelist bopping us on the head proclaiming that we are healed.
God’s compassion is the word that cuts through our loneliness to join us to community.
God’s compassion is the water of baptism that washes, cleans and clothes us with Christ. The water that gives us new life, new life found in the community of sheep who also bear the scars and healed over wounds of life.
God’s compassion is the bread and wine of life, the meal that nourishes us for the Kingdom. The food that can only be shared in community, that is served at the Shepherd’s table for hungry sheep.
God’s compassion for the crowds and for us, even as we press in on a tired Jesus, is about reminding us that the Good News is that we are loved. That we are forgiven, reconciled, and made whole in the One Body of Christ.
As we press in on a tired Jesus today, God’s compassion means that we are no longer sheep without a Shepherd.