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“Frustrating Circumstances, Phenomenal Outcome”

Sept.2, 2012 Mk.6:30-44


Who doesn’t welcome the prospect of a holiday when they’ve been working hard? It’s wonderful to be able to get away for a break; to get away from the treadmill, to get rested and refreshed. Over the past month Yvonne (my wife) and I have enjoyed a week in northern Ontario visiting old friends, and nearly two weeks in eastern Ontario reconnecting with our own immediate family. It has been a very welcome break.
    In today’s scripture passage, Jesus and His disciples look forward to a short holiday of sorts. They encounter frustration, but discover when they truly yield their little remaining resources to God’s disposal, He can bless and multiply amazingly!
    Early in Mark chapter 6, Jesus sends out the Twelve on a preaching and healing mission. Vv12-13 record that they preached that people should repent, drove out many demons, and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. Exciting work - awesome to see God at work helping people who have problems - but it can be very draining work, too. In v30 we find the apostles coming back from their mission; they “gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught.” But Mark’s next verse gives some idea of the pressure they must have been under: “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat...” Success causes its own stresses; “build a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door” – what will they do when they hear you can do miracles of physical healing?!
    A marketing expert would probably have told Jesus the last thing He should do at a time like that is withdraw; the movement is just building momentum! But withdraw He does, public demand notwithstanding. Vv31f,  “He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” Literally, a deserted place; out in the boonies, the wilderness, away from everyone. Jesus wasn’t captive to popularity; He knew the disciples needed to rest, to get away.
    God is NOT a slave driver; He cares for our physical needs, our health, and effectiveness. Psalm 127(2) says,  “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” In Matthew 11(28f) Jesus said,  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” That doesn’t sound like a slavedriver or harsh taskmaster, does it? Jesus became a human like us, he understands our need for rest when we’re exhausted and have been serving Him with all we have.
    Have you heard Jesus inviting you personally, “Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest”? Are you able to unplug from the world’s umbilical cord of media and internet to carve out some quiet space with just the Master? Can you cultivate the discipline of creating quiet in which you can hear the Lord speaking, addressing you through His word? How regularly do you escape the frenzy and invite God into solitude?


Vacation plans are great when they work out; but sometimes a wrench gets thrown into the works. Jesus and the Twelve were heading by boat to the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee; v33 notes, “But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.” So when Jesus disembarked he “saw a large crowd” (34). Humph! Some ‘getaway’ this turned out to be! Their plan was foiled by their own popularity. Now, how would YOU have reacted about this point? Would you be pleased to see your holiday plans take this sudden turn?
    Some of you may have your own stories from this past summer of holiday plans gone awry, for instance camping outings interrupted by raccoons beside the tent in garbage cans or bears or bees! Our daughter Meredith, her husband Davies, and 6-month-old son Malachi were supposed to be flying from Calgary to Montreal and renting a car to go from there to our family vacation west of Ottawa. They got to the Calgary airport in time, but there were no more parking spots available in the long-term lot. By the time they got parked they’d missed their flight, so ended up flying to Kitchener and bussing from there to Ottawa between 10 at night and 5 in the morning. You can imagine a long bus ride in the middle of the night with a 6-month-old baby and all their gear! Thankfully Malachi slept most of the way.
    Waiting to transfer at the bus station in Toronto, they happened to bump into a member of the Burundian church Meredith had attended in Ottawa; he’d heard they were coming to church that weekend so was making the trip especially. That was an encouragement. The bus driver kindly dropped them at the door of their hotel in Kanata, where they got a few hours’ sleep after 5 a.m.before the 3-hour Sunday morning church service. That afternoon, other church members shuttled them to a car rental place; of course the car they’d booked beforehand out of Montreal was no longer a possibility. The rental company had no cars available that weekend for Ottawa. At this point, we phoned another company (that we’d used for Emily and Trent’s rental) and they DID have vehicles available. Again, church members drove them to the rental agency and they were finally on their way. In the end, God provided their needs; and what could have been a nerve-wracking experience was made easier by the help of other Christians and a thoughtful bus driver. But what a change from their original plans!
    What was Jesus’ reaction when He saw the large crowd? Did He blow up in a rage that their vacation plans were ruined? Did He get back on the boat and head off to another location? V34, “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.So he began teaching them many things.” He didn’t blow up or get angry; He had compassion on them, the term means “to be moved as to one’s bowels” – these were thought to be the seat of love and pity.
    What did Jesus see when He looked at the large crowd – enemies or thoughtless bullies who were out to take advantage of His supernatural power? No, through the lens of compassion He saw “sheep without a shepherd.” David McKenna comments that without a shepherd sheep are “directionless, dumb and defenseless animals.” “Of all the animals, sheep are the most vulnerable.Senselessly, they will wander away from the flock to become easy prey for wolves.Futilely, they will pick over wastelands and starve unless the shepherd leads them into green pastures.”
    Jesus responds with loving care, He becomes their Shepherd: teaching them, organizing them, speaking for them, feeding them.
    What about you – can you relate to the image of being “sheep without a shepherd”? How are you like a sheep? Are you ‘directionless’? Do you unthinkingly get swept along with the crowd, like lemmings rushing headlong over a cliff?
    When I was growing up on a dairy farm, sometimes the more strong-willed Holsteins in the herd would rub along fencelines until a wire was broken, then push their way out of the field into the ditch alongside the road. Then the more passive cows would follow them out of the safe field into the danger of the roadside. It’s not always wise to follow the leader of the crowd, to give in to ‘herd instinct’! God provides His teaching so we can resist the pull of natural appetites and desires that could end in our destruction.


As Jesus taught the crowds, time passed. In vv35f the disciples suggest Jesus send the crowds away to the surrounding villages to buy something to eat, because it’s getting late in the day. It seems the “responsible” thing to do, perhaps also “self-preserving”: they don’t want an unhappy hungry crowd on their hands – things could turn ugly.
    But Jesus advocates for those who are without, the vulnerable, those who’ve hurried on foot a long way to hear Him (even if they DID wreck His plans!). Perhaps with a twinkle in His eye He challenges the disciples, v37: “YOU give them something to eat.” (The ‘you’ is emphatic in the Greek.) Of course, this stuns the disciples; such a demand is clearly beyond their meagre resources, for the crowd probably approaches some 20,000 men, women, and children in total (v44, 5,000 “men” alone).
    Jesus does call us as His disciples to deny ourselves – say “no” to ourself – to take up our cross daily and follow Him (8:34). Are we truly ready to give up our possessions, savings, and security for a particular purpose if it is the Master’s leading? If it seems such a short-sighted move as feeding a huge crowd for a day? The petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread,” cautions us to rely fully on God rather than feel entitled to security for tomorrow or our later years. Jesus is testing the disciples’ obedience-level: are they ready to give up all their reserves for serving others’ needs?
    The New Living Translation describes the interaction this way: “Jesus said, ‘You feed them.’ ‘With what?’ they asked. ‘We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!’” (200 denarii in the text being about 8 months’ wages)
    V38, Jesus comes back with, “How many loaves do you have?” What do you HAVE – it’s not about what you don’t have. Are you prepared to relinquish to the Lord’s use the little you already have NOW?
    A missionary once asked a new convert, “Pablo, if you had a hundred sheep, would you give fifty of them to the Lord’s work?”
    He answered, “You know I would gladly give them.”
    “Pablo, if you had fifty cows, would you give twenty-five to the Lord’s work?”
    “Yes, you know I would be more than happy to do that.”
    Again the missionary asked, “Pablo, if you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord’s work?”
    “That’s not fair,” Pablo replied. “You know I have two pigs.”
    Many people are extremely generous in theory but not in practice. They say, “If I only had a million dollars, I would give half of it away.” This is simply not true. If we aren’t faithfully giving even ten percent of our money right now, we wouldn’t give away half a million dollars if we had it. (Kent Crockett, Making Today Count for Eternity, Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2001, p. 151-152)
    When Jesus asks, “How many loaves do you have?” - it’s a test to see if He’s really “Lord” of all we have and are. What we have may not seem like a whole lot, but have we actually resolved to put it all at His disposal?
    V41, Jesus takes the meagre 5 loaves and 2 fish, looks up to heaven, gives thanks for a ridiculously paltry amount - quite humorous in fact! - breaks the loaves, divides up the fish, and quietly, without fanfare, a major miracle occurs. Our limited resources do not limit God. His abundance prevails. V42, “They all ate and were satisfied.” There were even 12 basketfuls of broken pieces left over – one per disciple, perhaps God underlining for them that they’d be individually provided for when they entrust all they have to Him.


We live in a very materialistic culture, where money often makes the difference between doing something and not being able to do it. Jesus’ words and miracle encourage us to keep offering what we have to God who can multiply supernaturally for His purposes. Our security needs to be in HIM rather than financial reserves.
    Laurie Cook, President and CEO of World Relief Canada, shares this story of a couple he heard interviewed on the radio. “A young couple lived the wonderful life, wealthy and fulfilled. There was a great standard of living, fulfilling jobs and vacations in the many historical sites throughout Europe. ...A couple of years ago they became concerned with the increasing violence and lawlessness in their home city of Karachi [largest city in Pakistan, about 21 million people]. Despite the fact that they had grown up there and loved much of their life, they looked across to Toronto for a fresh start in more secure surroundings...The safer suburban neighbourhood they first moved into quickly became unaffordable and their depleted resources led them to life in a less than desirable part of downtown Toronto.
    “The reality check for these active and ambitious professionals came when they learned that their career credentials were not accepted in Canada. Before long they found themselves exhausting much of their resources and having to dramatically downsize their lifestyle.
    “In their interview they spoke about moving downtown because they couldn’t afford the rent and commute from the suburbs; how they began walking everywhere and shopping ever so carefully for food. But as I listened [Laurie says], I sensed that they were not complaining and maybe not even unhappy about their circumstances. They spoke about odd jobs, going home at night, cooking together, sitting and eating, talking and listening to Punjabi radio. And then I recognized why they didn’t sound despondent.They expressed a sense of contentment and beyond that even happiness.They had discovered a new depth of knowing and loving each other.  They also discovered a deep sense of well-being hidden in living a simple life.
    “Several times the young lady explained how much she felt stronger and more capable having learned to live without money. She expressed the value of the lesson and how she felt it enabled her…They weren’t piously describing an adventure. You could feel in their voices an articulate expression of a deep conviction, rooted in a profound experience. Somehow living without the benefit of discretionary money had transformed them.”
    [Laurie Cook concludes by challenging us] “Let’s stop for a moment and think about how much time over the past week we spent in activities that consumed money. But if we hadn’t had the money, and we couldn’t enjoy some of those things, would we still be alive and well……..maybe even ‘weller’?”
    Let’s pray.