Sunday, July 18, 2021

Called to Follow Where Jesus Goes

In case you haven’t noticed, there is something missing in today’s Gospel reading from Mark. What’s left out? Oh, nothing much! Just two of the most familiar stories in all of the New Testament! What we don’t hear about in today’s reading is about Jesus feeding the 5000 (Mark 6:35-44) nor do we hear about Jesus walking on the water (Mark 6:42-52)! Instead, all we see is Jesus coming and going—first in Galilee (Mark 6:30-34) and then across the sea to Gennesaret (Mark 6:53-56). What’s so big about that?

Now I don’t know why the people who edited the lectionary did that…they didn’t ask me. But this edit does something very useful: it forces us to look at the Gospel and Jesus’ coming and goings in a new way. Instead of being distracted by the Big Miracles, we can pay attention to Jesus just coming and going.

So let’s just do that for a minute, shall we? Let’s look at Jesus’ coming and going in the Gospel of Mark. What does that tell us about what God is up to?

The first thing we learn is that Jesus is attentive to the needs of people. At the beginning of the reading, Jesus arrives and what does he see? He see his own people, the Jewish people, come to him for healing, to hear him teach, to be fed either in Word or with bread. Jesus sees them and has compassion on them because they are aimless, in need of direction and purpose. They are, we are told “like sheep without a shepherd.”

And then, at the end of the reading, Jesus arrives on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee and meeting people who come to him for healing, for teaching, and who are hungry, and he ministers to them, too.

In both instances, Jesus meets people where they are, as they are, and he teaches them and heals them. But wait, there’s more. In the passages that were left out, we find out also that he feeds them (in the miraculous feeding of the multitude) and rescues them from danger (in the miracle of walking across the water).

Which leads us to the second thing we learn from watching Jesus’ comings and goings: it doesn’t much matter where Jesus goes, the needs of people are pretty much the same.

Remember, a few weeks ago, I said that in the Gospel of Mark, the movement across the Sea of Galilee represents the movement between the Jewish world and the Gentile world? Well, today, by leaving out the big dramatic miracles in between, we see Jesus moving from healing, teaching and caring for one set of people then we see Jesus healing and caring for another set of people.

Different people. Different places. Same need.

What we learn is that God sees something that we often miss: hungry people are hungry people, sick people are sick people, lonely people are lonely people, frightened people are frightened people, and people who are like sheep without a shepherd look pretty much like other people who are like sheep without a shepherd. Sin is sin, poverty is poverty, injustice is injustice pretty much everywhere we go.

Following Jesus’ comings and goings puts to an end the idea that charity begins at home… that pernicious little lie that says that we must first take care of our own. It calls me out of the cocoon I create when my own hurt takes priority over everyone else’s.

In God’s eyes, all poverty is poverty, all oppression is oppression, all sickness is sickness, and all sin is sin. Jesus goes to both sides of the lake and ministers to everyone.

When it comes to compassion and ethics we are tempted to live as if, to paraphrase the late congressman from Massachusetts, Tip O’Neill, who said “all politics are local,” as if “all suffering is local.” We tend to focus on what is personal to us or close to home. In fact, God sees everyone and reaches out to everyone. When we watch Jesus’ comings and goings we discover that God’s love, and healing power, is for everyone and available to everyone-- no matter who they are or where they live.

This is especially important for us to hear today.

It used to be fashionable to wear bracelets and buttons that read “What would Jesus do?” Well, the answer is found in watching his comings and goings. I’d prefer to ask “where does Jesus go?”  Jesus goes to both side of the Sea. He goes to the Jewish side and the Gentile side. Jesus goes to wherever there is human pain and hunger and need. And when he gets there he meets people as they are and touches them, he heals, he teaches, and he feeds them in the ways that they need.

And we are called to follow where Jesus goes.

A sermon for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11B. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

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