Restoration of the Soul – Rev. Amanda Wagner
July 19, 2015 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)
Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
This week’s reading is actually a continuation of our reading from two weeks ago, where Jesus sent out the twelve disciples into the neighboring towns and villages to teach and heal. Jesus sent them in pairs, telling them to take nothing with them, but to rely instead on the hospitality of the villagers that they encountered.
In our reading today, the disciples return, heralding Jesus with the stories of their adventures. Then Jesus takes the disciples away to a deserted place to find some rest, but it seems that no matter where they go, on one side of the Sea of Galilee or the other, the crowds always seem to be one step ahead of them.
Part of what we didn’t read from chapter 6 is Mark’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. The people in this story are so desperate to get to Jesus that they figure out where he’s going, even if it’s the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and run ahead to where Jesus is going in the hopes that they will cross paths with him. They don’t just follow after Jesus; they run ahead of him, not even stopping to pack a lunch for the trip.
In the meantime, Jesus has taken the disciples to what he had hoped would be a deserted place on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, but again the crowd beat them there. They’ve come a long way to see Jesus, so instead of taking a break like he had intended, Jesus starts to teach the multitude. When dinnertime rolls around, everyone is hungry, and since they’re in the middle of nowhere, there is no place to find food.
Once again, Jesus gives of himself, taking what little the disciples could scrounge together – five loaves and two fish – and using it to feed the crowd. He takes the bread, looks to heaven, blesses it, breaks it, and then gives it to his disciples to be distributed to the people. Mark reports that everyone ate their fill, and there were still twelve baskets of leftovers.
Later, on the night in which Jesus is betrayed into the hands of the Roman authorities, Jesus also sits down to dinner with his disciples. At that time he takes the bread, and in a similar manner blesses and breaks it before distributing it to all who are seated with him around the table. And in the context of the Last Supper and his impending death, Jesus tells his disciples, “This is my body, broken for you.”
Faced with the crowd that no longer just follows him but now anticipates his moves and arrives ahead of him, Jesus has two options: he could ignore the people so that he could get some much needed rest, or he could continue to give of himself, healing the next person, and the next and the one after that, to the point where you or I would have nothing left to give.
But here’s the thing about Jesus. His body might have been broken. He may have been hung upon a cross until there was no life left in his body, but that wasn’t the end of Jesus. Like the five loaves and two fish broken for the crowd of five thousand, at the end of the day there was something left over. In fact, there was more left than what they started with.
On Good Friday, the life of Jesus the man may have ended on the cross. But by Easter morning, the world had more than it started with. We had the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God risen from the dead. Not dead, but having conquered death, and in doing so, the risen Christ had provided eternal life for all people.
We call ourselves Christians, or “little Christs,” because we believe in and worship Jesus the Christ. We do our best to follow the examples set forth by Jesus while he was on earth. We care for the sick, we feed the hungry, we reach out to the lost, to those Jesus said were “like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus took the disciples away to give them a chance to rest, but when he was confronted by those in need, those seeking healing and wholeness, Jesus had compassion for them. The word “compassion” means to “suffer with.” This wasn’t about pity. Jesus didn’t feel sorry for those who were sick. He felt their pain. He experienced their need and was moved to the point of doing something about it.
Compassion goes beyond just seeing the suffering of others. It is possible to see suffering but not feel it. Dewitt Jones, a professional photographer for National Geographic, tells a story about a photographer who walked down the street one way and came upon a man who was choking.
What a picture, the photographer thought. This says it all: a man, alone, in need. What a message! So he fumbled for his camera and played with the settings until the poor guy who was choking realized that he wasn’t going to get any help. Then the choking man grabbed the photographer’s arm and gasped, “I’m turning blue!”
“That’s all right,” replied the photographer. “I’m using color film.”
Just noticing suffering isn’t enough. We’ve got to feel the suffering, to experience it, to sense it in our guts. You know the shortest verse in the Bible? John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.” Jesus wasn’t just a passive observer of the world around him. He was born into this world in flesh and blood.
Jesus fell and scraped his knees as a child. He grieved at the death of his friend Lazarus. He willingly took on a human body, knowing full well that he would feel all the hope and sorrow and joy and pain of a human life, and in turn, a human death. And when Jesus was faced with the sick and suffering people of the world, he felt their pain and then he did something about it.
When World War II ended, the members of a church in Frankfurt, Germany, began reconstructing their bombed-out sanctuary. One of the major objects to be restored was a statue of Christ that had been broken apart. The church folk were able to find and reassemble the entire statue, with the exception of Jesus’ hands. After a long debate, the congregation decided to leave the statue handless. Then beneath this statue of Jesus they inscribed the words: “Christ has no hands but our hands.”
Although Christ’s death and resurrection has left us all with the promise of something far greater than this life, each day we are given is still a gift. And we are called upon to help others experience all the gifts that this life has to offer, when we recognize a need, have compassion, and work to alleviate a problem.
But I want you to notice something about today’s text. When the disciples returned from their mission, Jesus made them take some time for rest. And when the crowds showed up, it was Jesus who taught the people, gave them food, and offered healing.
Jesus made sure that at the end of their mission, the disciples got their time of rest after all. You see, the trip wasn’t over when the disciples returned home. They weren’t completely finished until they had taken the time to rest and renew their spirits.
We may be called to be the hands and feet of Christ, but that in no way means that we are Christ. Jesus might have been able to continue reaching out, healing, teaching, and breaking his body for the sake of others, but he made sure that the disciples took some time to rest before starting out again.
It’s hard to look around this world and see so much to be done. There are hungry mouths to feed, natural disasters to clean up, sick folks and shut-ins to visit. Even for our gathering, someone has to unlock the doors, turn on the lights, provide snacks, take out the trash, and make sure there is toilet paper in the bathroom.
There is always something to be done. But before we move on to the next thing on our list, we need to finish the task at hand. Sometimes we are called to have compassion for the sheep without a shepherd, and sometimes we are the sheep.
At those times, we are promised a good shepherd who knows what it’s like to be a sheep – a shepherd who will make us lie down in green pastures, lead us beside the still waters, and restore our souls. Amen.