The demons very much fear six virtues: 1) hunger, 2) thirst, 3) the Prayer of Jesus, 4) the sign of the Cross, that is, he who makes the sign of the Cross correctly upon himself, 5) frequent Communion of the Most Pure Mysteries of Christ, if one worthily communes, and 6) undoubting hope in God. There is nothing more frightful than this weapon against the demons.
+ St. Paisius Velichkovsky. +
I am suggesting that the lectionary as written for today is an open invitation to ignore it. The official election from the Gospel of Mark is: Mark 6:30–34, 53–56. Feel free to look up what is missing — go ahead, I’ll wait . . . Back? Yes, the feeding of the 5,000 and the episode of Jesus walking on the water have been omitted. I am going to take the tack our Catholic friends are taking and I plan to speak only of verses 30-34 here.
Even then, we need to pick up some context. Jesus has commissioned, instructed, and sent the disciples:
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
The interlude in Herod’s palace intervenes. Please, remember that it is there because the disciples are criss—crossing Galilee and doing what verse 7 said they should. Herod hears and is worried as he remembers his murderous dealing with John the Baptist.
Finally, as one might expect, the disciples return to Jesus:
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
Culture enters into the story. When eating, those who would show up had to be greeted with the customary hospitality. Doing so would indeed have made it impossible to eat for the disciples who would have been called on to serve the guests instead.
Also, seeking to know what your neighbor was up to, was a normal thing. Privacy was not valued but seen as suspicious. Therefore running to see what Jesus and his disciples were doing was probably normal. (see The Cultural World of Jesus, John Pilch)
On the other hand it made for quite a commotion as everyone was running all over the place to investigate. It must indeed have looked bit like a bunch of sheep running about aimlessly.
Jesus responds by sitting them down and teaching them many things(and as we will hear next week, feeding them).
A few things might stand out to us: The disciples go sent out two by two into a hostile world. The Herod interlude is to remind us that this is a world that in certain quarter stakes the driving out of demons, healing of diseases, and the preaching of repentance (6:12) as a threat.
Then the apostles return and give report to the Lord what they have taught and done in Jesus’ name. (6:30) There is something of a homecoming type thing to it — home as in “our commonwealth is in heaven,” type homecoming. They give report what they have done in his name, by his authority and bidding. He now invites them into his rest. (Heb 4 and Ps 95) There are echoes of Heaven and Sabbath here.
But somehow, though the invitation has been made, it is not permitted quite yet. Mark reminds us that heaven on earth is at the mercy of the need of people. The Sabbath rest must wait until the sheep are tended. Only then can the rest be entered. In this world, compassion demands that rest — heaven — be postponed so grace can be done.
If you think about it, Matthew makes the same point in Matt 25: The Sheep and goats the latter having done the work but without love for the one who sent them to work and, it would seem, without compassion for the scattered sheep around them. (you have to love both: the Lord and the neighbor as if neighbor was the Lord)
It is also why Jesus comes off the mountain of Transfiguration instead of entering heaven right then and there: The greatest work of Grace had not been accomplished.
The continuing work of Grace, the work of the Spirt through the church (Small Catechism, 3rd Article) is also yet to be done. Rest will come, weary church, just not yet. Grace and compassion beg your diligence and persistence even though the work seems never done.
There will be things asked that are beyond the church. Jesus dares ask those things. Looking at thousands he instructs the church: “Give them something to eat.” The apostles know that Jesus has just ask them to extend the customary hospitality to this throng and they know that custom and faith demands they extend it. They also know their own capacities. Some things are beyond church to accomplish and only the Lord can work them. Only the Lord can work atonement and only the provident hand of the Holy and Blessed Trinity can supply enough to feed a hungry world. All is under the Lord’s hand. Law and Gospel, life and eternal life, time and eternity. We merely get to act as waiters at the table of the world and gather the surplus in baskets. While there is “world” there is work.
Yet, while there is work and need there is the Lord. Maybe the greatest lesson Jesus taught the apostles in their first journey is to trust that the God of Abraham does provide. Maybe this is the reason he sent them out without extra supplies. They, like us, had to learn that it was not all up to them. It was and is all up to the Lord.
Comedian Steve Wright once made these remarks: “Smokey says: ‘only you can stop forest fires.’ I used to sneak out of the house with a bucket of water at night to make sure I did my job. He seemed serious. and angry. I didn’t want to make him mad.”
Well, it is up to us but it really is not. We work and work diligently but, in the end, all is given by God. Thinking about giving up sometimes? It just seems to never end? There just never is enough?
There is, for there is Jesus.