22 July 2012Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
"[Jesus] had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." (v. 34)
These passages stress Jesus' compassion towards those in need and highlight his growing popularity as a teacher and miracle-worker. They also act as bookends for two of Jesus' major nature-miracles: his multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:35-44) and walking on the water (Mark 6:45-52). With signs like these, is it any wonder that crowds gather?
The first passage (verses 30-34) begins with the disciples returning to Jesus from their mission of healing and teaching (verses 7-13), sharing all that they had done. The 'coming and going' of the crowds mean that the disciples can find no rest, so Jesus takes them by boat to a deserted place across the Sea of Galilee. But there they are met by the crowds, who have rushed around the shore to meet them.
We might expect irritation or impatience, but Jesus has compassion for the crowds, seeing them as "sheep without a shepherd", a metaphor with prophetic precedent (Ezekiel 34:5). Jesus recognises that the crowds are lost and shares with them the hope-filled message of the kingdom. The compassion of Jesus also echoes the compassion (or mercy) of God, a key divine attribute in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and prophets (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8). Through his response to the crowd, Jesus reveals the character of his Father.
Following the two nature miracles, verse 53 sees Jesus and the disciples come to Gennesaret, a village on the north-western shore of the lake. Once again, the popularity of Jesus leads people from that "whole region" (v. 55) to lay their sick at his feet. Jesus continues to travel around the area, and wherever he goes, healing takes place. Even those who touched the "fringe of his cloak" (v. 56) were healed. Jesus' presence brings healing and restoration, though - as the next chapter shows - this was not without controversy.
- In a world of many needs, how can we remain compassionate towards others?
- What do you think caused Jesus' popularity? To what extent should churches seek to be 'popular' places?
- What is the role of the 'ministry of healing' in church today?