Pentecost 8B July 18, 2021 Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56
The disciples are gathered around Jesus and they are telling him about all of the things they have done. They are excited but they are also worn out. Jesus had sent them out two by two into the surrounding villages and towns with the power to heal and cast out demons and now, they have returned. They are exhausted because ministry is exhausting work; but they are also eager to tell Jesus about the amazing things they never knew they had the power to do.
And Jesus listens to their stories and he shares their enthusiasm. But he knows they need their rest and so he gets them into a boat to go to a solitary place for some solitude on the other side of the lake.
It is important that Jesus recognizes their need for some time and some distance so that they can rest and recharge. Jesus knows their need to essentially “lie down in green pastures and sit beside still waters to restore their souls.” And yet, even as they tried to get away, the crowds followed them and hounded them. We are told Jesus saw this great crowd of suffering and he had compassion on them. In his eyes they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he, now rested and recovering from grief over the death of John the Baptist, knows that he can be their shepherd … their good shepherd.
What might that be like? What might it be like to be a sheep without a shepherd? In the gospel of John, Jesus describes himself as a shepherd who intimately knows his flock and whose sheep know his voice. They follow him because they know they can trust him. They know that he will take care of them even if it means laying down his life for them. And so, to be a sheep without a shepherd is to have no one you can trust … no one you can depend on to take care of you. It is having no one who knows you deeply and having no voice to follow.
What is amazing is that there are so many of these shepherdless sheep. There are crowds of them … throngs that are begging to touch the fringe of his cloak to be healed … masses who’s only hope of ridding their lives of demons is this one who commands them to leave. Could there still be countless droves like that still today? And, if so, where are they? Where might we find them? Well, I dare say, that we need not look any further than the mirror to find one.
We have all been in that kind of a predicament. And, if you haven’t been there, I assure you, your time will come. A time when you will stand in a crowd hungry for a healing touch, desperate for a hand of consolation, yearning for peace, and relief, and the mending of your broken life. Such times come to us all and Jesus looks upon us with compassion, too. He meets us as lost and wayward sheep to be the shepherd we need.
Of course, these days Jesus has to use the likes of us to do his shepherding work. In his name we become his hands that heal and his voice that quiets fears. We are the eyes that Jesus uses to look with kindness upon the afflicted masses.
You know, for all my life as a pastor I have been on the giving end of extending comfort and consolation, shepherding others as best I could. And then, when Pam died, I had to stand on the other side of that equation, and it taught me a lot. It taught me that the best healers are those who have been healed themselves and the best restorers to wholeness are those who have been broken too and put back together again.
I remember the Apostle Paul having to learn this lesson. He talked about it in his second letter to the Corinthians. To keep him from becoming too proud of his accomplishments, God gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to torment him. He begged God to get rid of it but was met with silence. Time and again he prayed for relief and finally God answered. But it was not what Paul expected to hear. Instead of healing, he was told, “My grace is enough, it is all you need. For my strength works best in weakness.” He learned that the weaker he was, the stronger instrument he became in God’s hands. (II Cor 12: 7-10) And so it is with us. Those hardships and obstacles in our lives are a troubling gift from God so that we can better bring God’s love and grace to others facing difficulties.