Mark 6:30–34, 53–56
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. 31 Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” 32 They departed in a boat by themselves for a deserted place.
33 Many people saw them leaving and recognized them, so they ran ahead from all the cities and arrived before them. 34 When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he began to teach them many things.
53 When Jesus and his disciples had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret, anchored the boat, 54 and came ashore. People immediately recognized Jesus 55 and ran around that whole region bringing sick people on their mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 Wherever he went—villages, cities, or farming communities—they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.
Jesus has become a recognizable figure! We’ve already seen that in Mark he is by this time a marked man – marked for death. Here we see that he is also a marked man to the people. Twice Mark tells us they “recognized” Jesus and his disciples and were drawn to where he was.
Why? According to Mark it’s because with Jesus the people experienced “compassion” (v.34) and healing (v.56). Compassion (to suffer with) and healing. Jesus entered into the lives and suffering of the people and out of this solidarity with them and their plight, he healed them.
Jesus went where the people were (“villages, cities, or farming communities,” v.56), embraced who and what they were and what they experienced, and healed them. And the people recognized something in and through him they had found nowhere else. So compelling and attractive was this “something” that the people gathered where he was, crowded around him, and sought “to touch even the hem of his clothing” to be healed.
It seems clear that this “something” they discovered in Jesus was the very touch of YHWH himself. But Mark also intends, I think, for us to see more than that here. Jesus in Mark seems to be both the incarnation and presence of YHWH and the human One God always intended his creatures to be. Jesus is both fully and truly God and fully and truly human – perhaps this is what talk of his “two natures” is all about. The crowds around Jesus found in him both the touch of their God and that of the creature they were always meant to be! The God of compassion and the Spirit-filled human, somehow together as one, met them in their marketplaces, in the quotidian reality of their lives, and vested them with the full dignity due them as God’s creatures and called them to their primal vocation as God’s image-bearers.
Out of the past of the earthly Jesus these stories jump right into our present – in our face, we might almost say.
-The pervasive and withering critique of the church from many quarters is a lack of just this compassion and healing.
-In addition, many lament the entrenchment of the church in an attractional mode – trying to attract the people to us and our facilities.
-Further, the church has not invested itself in the daily lives of ordinary people but rather drawn people away from that life and into immersion in “church” life.
To all this, Jesus presents a “missional” alternative. That same compassion, solidarity, being with, and healing are ours today in and through him. Yet the gift of this new way of being and ministry come at a price. They require us to rethink everything we have come to believe “church” is and is to be about. We will doubtless hope to capture this “new wine” in the old wineskins we have so carefully and lovingly fashioned. But soon we will discover that this new wine will burst sunder the old wineskins. No, new wine requires new wineskins and it is to discovering and fashioning these that this text summons us – if we have the courage to hear and heed it. May it please God that we do!