Sunday, July 15, 2012

Do Not Grow Weary In Doing Right. Homily for Mark 6:30-34

Homily for 7.22.12
MARK 6:30-34 (see below)
Year B













The Lectionary Gospel reading for today sets before us a brief pericope, a reading that actually serves as an introduction to the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, which we will tackle next week, the LORD willing, only next week we will shift from St. Mark to St. John's account of the story.

You will recall how last week the disciples were sent by Jesus on mission, two by two, in order that they might carry forth the message by proclaiming to the surrounding towns that their King and Messiah had appeared, and that they might show the impact of his appearing by healing the sick and delivering those in bondage. Well, now it was time for the disciples to return and report these ministry experiences to Jesus.

This missionary reporting was important in two ways, first, so that the disciples might share their experiences with the Master, and you can imagine their excitement at the retelling of these mission actions -- the miracles, the people, the hardships, and second, Jesus would no doubt be interested in the progress of his mission purpose. For, we must never forget his primary care and passionate interest was that people everywhere would know that their King had arrived, and that Israel's GOD had now come close and was moving to reclaim his good, but fallen world.

But, in this process of reporting, Jesus apparently sees their ministry fatigue, and knowing that they needed time away from ministry to decompress and to prepare for what would come next, he determines to quiet them away from the pressing crowds, for it seems that the crowds so overwhelmed them that they didn't even have time to eat!

So, Jesus leads them to cross the lake to a deserted place so that they might rest, but it appears no escape was possible:
"So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd..."
We can probably imagine the look on the disciples face when their hide-away suddenly becomes the next venue of ministry. They probably thought, "Man-O-Man, you've got to be kidding! Give us a break, will ya?"

But, maybe not. Maybe they saw the same thing Jesus saw when he looked at the crowd:
"When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things."
That is, Jesus again sees the brokenness of the human condition first hand. Once more he witnesses in the human spectacle before him the lostness within the very heart of humanness. Jesus sees them without leadership, proper, loving leadership. Thus, "sheep without shepherd" is a very apt description, as the people, his people, wander in needy aimlessness. And, you should know that this was not an unusual way to describe the nation, but was in fact biblical:
16 "Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd." (Num. 27:16-17)

17 Then Micaiah said, "I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the Lord said, "These have no master; let each one go home in peace.' " (1 Kings 22:17)

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. (Ez 34:1-6)
And this was exactly how the nation looked to Jesus. 

N.T. Wright's description of the situation is particularly poignant here. He writes:
"Think back through the story Mark had told just told us. Herod is off in his palace, probably far to the south of the Sea of Galilee carousing with his cronies, winking at pretty girls, beheading prophets. His henchmen on the ground are grasping bullies. Here are his people, desperate for leadership. And here is a young prophet to whom they flock. Is he the king-in-waiting? That is the echo we must hear behind the story?" (Mark, pg. 78)
This moves Jesus to compassion. Something must be done. Someone must lead. Someone must show the true way, the new way to be GOD's true people. This was his calling, of course, and so, the text tells us, even out of his own fatigue, Jesus "began to teach them many things."

So, that is the story, but we then must ask just what this text brings to us for our journey?

FIRST: BE NOT WEARY IN WELL-DOING

To be sure, there is weariness in ministry, we know this is true, but weariness is no excuse to quit, and weariness is no excuse to back-off and let others pick up the torch.

Of course, this is a very difficult statement to hear for those of us long of tooth, and for those of us with many entanglements in our lives. Often, we must think to ourselves, “Well, we've done our part; we've served out time, now it's up to others to carry on the work.” And so, just when our most fruitful time of ministry is about to occur, just when we have the experience to share with others what all this mess means, we back away.

As our trailblazer, Jesus here models the determination to finish well the task before him. He let nothing stand in his way, not even weariness. Or, as St. Paul wrote:
Gal.6:9 -- So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

2 Thess.3:13 -- Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.


SECOND: IT’S NOT ABOUT US

Somehow we must discover Jesus’ compassion for the crowds within our own hearts, but this is not as easy as it sounds.

Here we plumb the depths of our own motivation for ministry -- Just why do we minister? and What is the cause and design of our ministry actions? 

We must answer, with sadness, that much ministry is ego driven, self-serving and about building our own empire, getting our name in lights, and therefore repairing and equipping our own broken self-worth.

To be sure, to some extent this is unavoidable. We are fallen people, after all, with a fallen motives, possessing prideful incentives hidden even from our own desperately wicked hearts.

But, in Jesus’ continued compassionate response to the crowds we see the lesson of selflessness, which screams to us: 
This story is not about us! It’s not about our connivence, or our weariness, or our need. 
Instead, it’s about the calling to the mission. It’s GOD’s story, and how GOD is reclaiming his good world from the battering and the marring of sin and selfishness and the final, hateful human attitude which says, “I want what I want when I want it and, literally, to hell with anything and anybody else.”



FINALLY,  IT'S NOT ABOUT THE CROWDS

It seems clear that Jesus’ message resonated with the “anawim” and the ὄχλος, the crowds. Instinctively, they understood they needed what Jesus offered, even if they really didn’t understand his words and works toward them. But, we must remember many of these people who clamored for him in today’s text will be the same ones who also cry for his crucifixion.

Again, this means, not only must our ministry actions not be about ourselves, but these actions must not be about the crowds either, finding what works to "bring them in." For, the crowd is fickle, having itching ears, and they will stay as long as what we say agrees with their disposition. 

But, again, this story is not about the crowds and how large is the audience. No, this story is about GOD and his push to reclaim the world in the truly human person of a young Jewish prophet named Jesus. 

So, ultimately, the goal here for us is to be found faithful to GOD and his calling on our lives, faithful to the very end.


_______________________

MARK 6:30-34
The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
"Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.