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Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Today’s Gospel lection jumps into the middle of the story and then leaves out what seem to be the most significant portions—the feeding of the five thousand (35-44) and Jesus walking on water (45-52). Without these miraculous events at the forefront, the selected short stories force the preacher to slow down with Mark’s details on the events that bracket these miracles.

The reading begins by reporting the end of the disciple’s missionary journeys (30). Jesus sent them out two by two and they reconvene exhausted to tell stories of what they experienced. At the end of their journeys they are worn—in fact, they’d been so busy they’d forgotten about lunch for days. It’s Jesus’ suggestion that they take some time to slow down and rest in a “deserted place” for “a while.” They got into the boat, took a deep breath, and felt the needs of their own bodies that they’d so long neglected—hunger, fatigue, and sore muscles. If I’m honest, this is where I wish it ended, with Jesus and the disciples laughing around a campfire on the shore, acknowledging their limitations, and practicing Sabbath. But that is not the end of the story. Instead of finding rest at the beach, they find a crowd of people with needs, hungry for the Word, for healing, and for dinner. This happens again in the second portion of the reading (53-56). Upon arrival in Gennesaret, immediately people recognized Jesus and “rushed about” or “ran” to tell everyone, “Jesus is here!” With desperation, people bring their loved ones near Jesus, pushing through the crowd, hopeful to reach even the end of cloak.

The preacher’s task this week may begin with some exegesis of their congregation. The entry points into these two short stories and the good news depend largely on where the people in the congregation find themselves this week:

For those preaching to tired disciples, workers of the harvest, those who serve faithfully and with little rest, what is the good news? Jesus wants the disciples to rest and take care of their bodies—it’s his idea to get some time alone! But Jesus and the disciples are swarmed again and again by people with needs. Jesus doesn’t draw good boundaries for his work-life balance. Instead, he has compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. For tired disciples, the good news may require looking to what’s left out of the lectionary, to the feeding of the five thousand, where Jesus supplies all of the needs—that of the disciples and the crowd—feeding them until they are satisfied. Where we see scarcity—five loaves, two fish—Jesus sees abundance.

For those preaching to the sick and dying or those living in day-to-day survival, this is a word of hope. Jesus turns no one away. There is room at his table for these five thousand desperate seekers who would go to ridiculous lengths, taking the trek to a remote place without thinking first about the time of day and how they’ll get home just to hear Jesus speak. Come to Jesus just as you are—run to meet him or beg a friend to carry you to him on your mat. There is no one too sick or too unworthy, no qualifications of insurance and photo identification needed to reach out and touch the cloak of Jesus.

For those preaching to the organized and orderly who love to be in church, the gift of these short stories are the interruptions. The readings force us to see what we might have missed if we only looked at the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water. The details before and after the miracles show the chaos that compassion often requires. Jesus had a plan for a restful evening, but was willing to have his plan changed. No time for a meeting to decide how to handle the crowds—he met them with compassion in that moment. Similarly, in the second story (53-56), swarms of people run around, crowd each other out, no doubt interrupting any agenda the disciples may have had. Can you imagine the people body to body, those without hope of seeing Jesus’ face and speaking with him, willing to try to reach the back of his clothes? That’s a lot of disorder. Perhaps most importantly for the preacher in this context, both stories show that the hurting people didn’t find Jesus in the temple, but on the beach and in the streets. As Karen Marie Yust reflects, “The church belongs in the world rather than cloistered in church