30And the apostles gathered to Jesus
and reported to him all the things that they did
and the things that they taught.
31And he says to them:
You yourselves come alone into a wilderness place and rest a little,
for those coming and those going were many
and they did not even have time to eat.
32And they went away in the boat into a wilderness place
33Many saw them going off
and knew them
and they ran together by foot from all the cities there.
They came there ahead of them.
34After he got out,
he saw a great crowd.
He was moved for them:
they were as sheep that did not have a shepherd.
He began to teach them many things.
35It was already mostly evening
after coming to him
It is a wilderness,
and it is already mostly evening.
so that they go in to the circling fields and villages
and buy for themselves something
37But he answers,
he said to them:
Give to them,
something to eat.
They say to him:
Should we go and buy eight months wages worth of bread
and will we then give to them to eat?
38He says to them:
How many loaves do you have?
And when they knew they say:
and two fish.
39And he commanded to them to sit down,
all of them,
banquet by banquet,
upon the green grass.
40They sat down,
row by row,
in hundreds and fifties.
41He took the five loaves and the two fish;
he looked into the heaven;
he blessed and broke the loaves.
He kept giving to his disciples
in order that they should set it before them
and the two fish he divided to all.
42They all ate and were stuffed.
43They picked up fragments
twelve baskets full,
also from the fish.
44Those who ate the bread were five thousand males.
he forced his disciples to get into the boat
and to go ahead into the region by Bethsaida,
until he releases the crowd.
46After he ordered them off,
he went into the mountain to pray.
47When it was evening,
the boat was in the middle of the sea,
he was alone on the land,
48he saw them tortured in their rowing.
The wind was against them.
About the fourth watch of the night
he comes toward them,
walking upon the sea.
He wanted to go past them.
49But when they saw him
upon the sea
they thought that he was a ghost.
50For they all saw him
and were thrown into chaos.
BANG he spoke with them
and says to them:
Stop being afraid.
51He got into the boat,
got in with them.
The wind stopped
and they were ecstasied beyond all measure
52for they did not understand about the loaves.
Their hearts were calloused.
53After they crossed upon the land
they came into Gennesaret and dropped anchor.
54As they were getting out of the boat,
BANG they recognized him.
55The whole of that region ran around
and began to carry
those who were in a bad way.
They carried them around wherever they heard that he was.
56Wherever he went into a village,
or into a city,
or into a field,
in the fields they placed the weak.
They kept calling him
so that they touch even the fringe of his garment.
As many as touched it were rescued.
A Question or Two:
- The storyteller informs us that Jesus saw the people as “sheep that did not have a shepherd.” What did he see that led him to that conclusion? Could it have been the fact that the crowd ran, all on their own, all the way around the lake to meet him on the other side? Could it be that the crowd seems to see Jesus as messiah, and (to Jesus’ mind) that alone is evidence that they are vulnerable, at risk, and too eager to leap to world-changing conclusions?
- The storyteller tells us that Jesus, in response, “taught them many things.” Why not tell us what those things were? What is your hypothesis about the content of that teaching?
Some Longer Reflections:
The lectionary decided to omit 20 verses. Such choices have to be made, but it is worth noticing what was chosen to be omitted: Jesus feeds 5000 people who ran around the lake to be with him, and then Jesus walks out to join his disciples in the boat where they were “tortured in their rowing.” In the text as cut, Jesus goes from teaching to healing, and both activities are motivated by a crowd that runs to him.
We are told that they run to him because they know him, or because they recognize him. Which means they have been informed about him, somehow, by someone. The storyteller has also told us about this. At the end of the story, after Jesus is dead and after all his male followers have abandoned him, the storyteller opens our eyes to see how very many women are still following Jesus. The storyteller informs us that, though we somehow missed them, they have always been there, following from the very beginning all the way to the very end. And, we are told, as they followed Jesus, they “deaconed” for him. Deacons were people whose mission it was to connect need with resource. How did people know whom to run to? Not because Jesus looked just like his messiah mug shot in the Post Office. They knew because the women told them. They pointed out which one was the messiah, and told the crowd what they might hope for.
That means that at the heart of the messianic movement devoted to turning the world right-side-up is a key collaboration: the women (whom we miss, consistently) collaborate with Jesus, and the result is that Jesus is acclaimed as messiah. The result is that Jesus carries out the tasks that make him the messiah.
This last bit wants further reflection. Interpreters have, for a long time, noticed that Mark’s story of the messiah is decisively shaped by 2nd Isaiah’s songs, especially those about the Servant of God who suffers. This recognition is significant. The shape of the gospel is formed by the shape of Jewish hope at the time of the return from Exile. The storyteller knows the old songs of hope, and uses them to link the career of Jesus (who was murdered by Rome) to the moment of return from the Exile (a disaster inflicted on the Jewish people by Babylon). This creative link remakes the present moment (after Rome crushed the First Jewish Revolt and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple), reshaping it into a moment when hope is re-born.
Such re-shaping, such re-imagining is crucial to theology. It is why what Lutherans call the “theology of the cross” is central to my own theological work. A theology of the cross “calls a thing what it is.” This is crucial. This theological beginning point insists on seeing crucifixion for what it is: catastrophic torture, a dead end. A theology of the cross cannot leap over the murder of the messiah to get to a cheerier message, cannot treat it as a simple transitional stage on the way to glory. As I said, a theology of the cross calls a thing what it actually is: the lynching of the messiah crushes hope.
And the resurrection is the deep, world-altering miracle that creates hope as something altogether unlike mere optimism. Hope only becomes hope when it has stared into the eyes of impossibility.
Which brings us back to the tasks that made Jesus the messiah. Mark’s storyteller presents the doing of those tasks as the result of the women, who are as invisible as God in Mark’s story, collaborating with the messiah who will be murdered and raised. I have thought about this narrative structure for a long time. Mark’s story is tightly told, with no wasted movements. That inclines me to expect that the work of the women can only be understood if it is read in line with the basic narrative structure of the story as a whole. That is to say: the collaborative creation of the career of Jesus as the career of the messiah is the through-line that makes Mark more than just a random collection of “stuff Jesus did.”
The women, through their collaboration, make Jesus into the messiah who will be crucified and then raised. They do this by seeing the actual needs of actual people, and calling them what they are: obstacles that make it impossible to hope for the world to be turned right-side-up. And that means that the women in Mark’s story emerge (upon reflection, once their work is revealed) as the people who know the songs of 2nd Isaiah better than anyone else. They see the crippled people who will not be able to walk back to the Land of Promise. They notice the people who cannot see, who therefore could not follow the road home safely. They are pointedly aware of the people who cannot hear the song of freedom that Isaiah sang, and who therefore cannot join in singing that song. The women in Mark see all this, and they call it what it is: an obstacle that makes optimism irrelevant. And they connect need with resource, they bring people to the Jesus so he can do for them what a messiah must do. As a result, the women make it possible for hope to be born in the story.
At this point, you can take any sermonic turn you choose. But notice that we are, now as always, surrounded by necessities that are also impossibilities. You have to call things what they actually are. The problems we must solve if “Black Lives Matter” is to be more than a necessary slogan are stunningly complex and perhaps beyond our ability to solve. The legacy of abuse in the Indian Boarding School system (not just in Canada, to be painfully obvious) has left marks on people and families that we can scarcely assess, let alone heal. The knots that transgender people have to untie just to live make the legendary Gordian Knot look like two half-hitches.
No matter what sermonic turn you take, this set of scenes requires that we remember that if the problems we face were NOT impossible and necessary (at the same time) we would not need to tell stories about messiah at all.
What gives me hope is the work of the women in these scenes. They identify impossible problems that must be solved and thus become accomplices of the messiah.