Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sermon; 8 Pentecost/Proper 11B; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Sometimes one wonders what the designers of the RCL were thinking.  Today's gospel passage seems like a desperate mash up of gospel stories because the committee didn't know exactly what to choose next.

In Chapter 6 of Mark we get Jesus' rejection in his hometown, the sending of the twelve, the recalling of John the Baptist's execution, the feeding of the 5000, Jesus walking on water and the healing of many people in Gennesaret.  This is the second longest chapter of the gospel, and there is a lot going on.  Despite that, today's appointed reading conflates the beginning and ending of two different stories.  The first takes place just before the feeding of the 5000; and the second comes from the healing of people post-feeding and post-water walking.

This is why today's passage feels like it doesn't fit together – because it's two chunks from two different stories.  Despite that, what this single reading of two separate passages does do is, if we look carefully, bring together two different aspects of the person of Jesus.

If we ignore last week's gospel reading of John's execution, because it really was a flashback scene interjected into the main story, today's gospel story begins after the disciples have returned form their mission of preaching and healing.  They gather around Jesus to tell him all about their mission, but they are constantly being bombarded with requests from all those around them – so much so that Jesus takes them to a deserted place.

This mini-retreat, however, was not to be.  People saw where they were headed and beat them to their destination.  We could look at this scene and think it's a case of paparazzi gone wild.  But there's more to it than that, and it turns out that the story of John's execution is relevant to today's passage.

Last week's passage gave us a little insight into the system under which the people lived.  It reminded us that the lives of people living under authoritarian rule had no value.  People could be, and were, routinely punished and executed.  Arrested for speaking out against an illicit marriage and executed because he annoyed Herodias, the episode with John last week proved that life was nasty, brutish and short.

But then Jesus shows up.  Looking for a quiet day with the twelve disciples, he is instead confronted with a mass of people.  These people recognize that, unlike Herod, Jesus actually cares for them.  The existing power structure couldn't care less about the people, unless it was to squeeze more money and/or labor out of them.  But Jesus comes and begins to teach them that there is another way.  Willing to pay attention to the people, and willing to teach them, that other role is reflected in his willingness to be a shepherd to the people.  Jesus, not Herod, is the one to lead the people.

The second aspect of the person of Jesus is seen in the second half of today's gospel reading.  It is in this section where the power of the kingdom of God is made manifest.

Gennesaret was, according to one source, a large, open geographic area with many settlers.  Other sources pin it as a specific city.  In reading the passage I tend to think it was an area, but that's beside the point.

The point is that those who were sick were taken to the marketplaces to be healed by Jesus, either by direct contact or, like the bleeding woman a few weeks ago, by simply touching his clothes.  He makes no distinction between man or woman, rich or poor – everyone who touched him, or who was touched by him, was healed.  This was universal health care at its best.

Also notice where these healings took place – in the marketplaces.  Jesus goes to the places of commerce.  By healing people in the marketplaces, Jesus is giving notice that the economic system in place – that is, the buying and selling of goods, working for monetary profit and denying goods to those who couldn't afford it – was going to change.

Instead of seeing people as pieces of a transaction, or as a means to increasing personal wealth, people are now seen as valuable children of God simply by means of their existence.  Love God, love your neighbor.  The kingdom of God is breaking into this world and all are welcome to participate, not just those who can afford it.

So while today's gospel reading appears to be a mash-up of two different stories, it really does serve a purpose.  That purpose is to show us in one concentrated image the vision of Jesus as a compassionate leader of people yearning to be cared for, as well as the vision of Jesus as a radical visionary intent on overturning the status quo and ushering in God's kingdom.

Who are the people around us who might be wandering like lost sheep?  Where might be the places in society that need a kingdom overhaul?

In today's gospel passage we have two examples of how Jesus did it.  Our task is to go and do likewise.



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