Have you ever felt like you had too much to do and not enough time to do it? Or perhaps you’ve encountered a “rough patch” in your life, or in the life of someone close to you, and no matter how hard you tried to fix it, nothing seemed to work? Your wheels were spinning, but you were going nowhere. You had run out of fingers to put in the dyke, but new leaks kept popping up. Maybe a better question would be “Has any of us ever not been in such a position?”
In our Gospel lesson today, the disciples must have had a lot on their minds. They’d been following Jesus around the countryside for weeks as he proclaimed the Good News—that the Kingdom of God was near!—teaching people through parables what that Kingdom looked like, and healing those who were sick in mind and body. Then, Jesus had sent them out, “two by two,” for a little while to do the same. What an experience that must have been: out on their own, clothed with spiritual authority from Jesus, but nothing much else—carrying no food or money, dependent on the goodness of God, and the kindness of strangers. Scary huh? But it all worked out. They preached, and healed, and cast out demons until they were almost-certainly worn out. Even Jesus sometimes got tired, you know. This “proclaiming the Kingdom” stuff is hard work! And then came the news of John the Baptizer’s execution. Some of these disciples had been John’s followers before they became Jesus’. They must have felt crushed, and guilty and scared. They should have done something… they should be doing something!
And then Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” The same Jesus who had pushed his disciples to the limits of their endurance to help them become more than they thought they could be, would now lead them to a place of rest and refreshment. Of course, the crowd that followed Jesus had other plans. What did it matter to them that the disciples were tired? This “larger flock” had its own needs and expectations and would not be put off. And Jesus wouldn’t leave them hanging. “[He] had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” The text goes on to describe how Jesus continued to minister to the crowd at Gennesaret and in the surrounding areas for the next few days. End of story, right? Well, yes and no. Certainly, we have reached the end of Mark Chapter 6. And, certainly, we have focused on some important aspects of Jesus’ interaction with his larger flock. You’ll notice, however, that there’s a big chunk missing from our reading today, between vv. 34 and 52. What did we skip? Anything important? Only the feeding of the five thousand… and Jesus walking on the water! Oh, for heaven’s sake! Why would the Lectionary folks do that? Maybe it’s because these are well known stories, able to stand on their own at other points in the Lectionary cycle, and including them today would have made for a long Gospel lesson. I can’t say for certain. But here’s what I do know: in skipping these two important stories, we missed out on some of Jesus’ important interactions with his smaller flock: the disciples. The ones who would remain to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom after he, himself, was gone.
So, let’s take a step back and take a look at what we missed: the disciples follow Jesus to a “deserted” place where they can rest, but that was not to be. Not for Jesus at any rate. He teaches the crowd until late in the day when it’s time for supper. The disciples are hoping that Jesus will send the people home to eat because, frankly, they haven’t a clue how they can feed them, given their meager resources. Remember: they’re tired and burnt out. Jesus, of course, has other ideas and helps the disciples do what they need to do to achieve the impossible with five loaves and two fishes (Mark 6:35-44). Later that evening, the disciples find themselves in a boat “straining at the oars against an adverse wind.” No matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to make headway in the direction they want to go. Then they encounter Jesus walking on the water. When he joins them in the boat, the wind suddenly abates (Mark 6:45-52). Hmmmmm. Both of these were “teachable moments” for the disciples. They were overwhelmed by events—they were “out-of-their-element”—but they learned that, when Jesus was with them, and when they listened to what he said, the situation improved. The disciples didn’t always understand precisely how this happened… but seeing was believing.
So, tell me, how different are we from the disciples? We love Jesus and try to walk in his ways. But sometimes we get tired… all the while feeling as if solving the world’s problems (or even just the problems in our own backyard) is all up to us. We get so wrapped up in our projects and causes that we fall prey to the illusion that, if we were to slow down… if we were to ease up—even a little—everything would fall apart. We could not be more mistaken. God is at work in the world, and in our lives, through the Holy Spirit. And God is not only involved in the “big-picture stuff,” but also in the “small stuff” that vexes and consumes us, because it’s in our learning to turn all of that “stuff” over to God that we begin to grow into the creatures God created us to become. Understanding our dependence on God, and God alone, is the necessary first step to our becoming the “Kingdom Bringers” we were made to be. How many times have you heard me say that? The reason you—all of us—were made… is to help bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. All the other stuff that constitutes a conventional “life well lived:” upbringing, education, family pedigree and wealth are all a means to an end, a way of equipping us to do our part to help usher in the Kingdom. Like the disciples, we have each been given gifts to help us accomplish things that are needful in this regard, and there’s a lot we can do with the help of the Holy Spirit. But we need to remember that it’s not our plan, it’s God’s plan that’s in play. And there will be times when we find ourselves immersed in our own “teachable moments” (usually when we are overwhelmed and “out-of-our-element) when we need to take a step back, and let God do the heavy lifting. Or better yet: in the words of the White Rabbit in the animated Disney adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “Don’t just do something, stand there.”
So, like the disciples and King David from this morning’s Hebrew Scripture (2 Sam. 7:1-14a), we must remember that God is God and we are not. God reoriented David to this reality when he told him not to build the Temple just yet… but to wait. Rest. Instead of David building God a temple, God would make David a house… a lineage, for a larger purpose. God was reminding David that it was His plan that was in play. Surely the Temple that would be built later by David’s son, Solomon, would become a house for God’s name, but the Apostle Paul reminds us that God is less interested in a house built of bricks and mortar than in the “household of God, built upon the foundation of the of the apostles and prophets… with Jesus Christ (of the house of David) as the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-22). This is the true temple and dwelling place of the Lord. This is the Kingdom we’re talking about.
So, when you find yourself overwhelmed by events, consider taking a deep breath, and putting yourself and everything else in God’s hands. Don’t just do something, stand there. Listen to what God is asking you to do, and try your best to be obedient (though it’s hard sometimes). You’ll find the strength and wisdom to do what you need to do. You will be upheld. First because you are loved, and second so that, when the time is right, you’ll be able to step up and fulfill your role in the miracle God has in store for this broken and hurting world.
1951, Film: Alice in Wonderland, Animation Studio: Walt Disney Productions, Adapted from Lewis Carroll’s “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”, Quotation Location: 21 minutes into total runtime 1 hour 15 minutes.