Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. There’s something special about sitting around a table and eating with others, isn’t there? I’ve been reminded of this a number of times recently. A couple of weeks ago, my family was on vacation visiting family and friends in the Midwest. While we were there, we had the opportunity to go to a friend’s wedding reception. And while we were at the reception, we had a chance to sit around a big round table and eat dinner with some friends that we hadn’t seen in quite a while. There’s something special about sharing a meal with those old friends that allows you to re-connect in a special way. Just a few days later, we were in Wisconsin visiting my side of the family. And while we were there, we had the opportunity to sit around the dining room table and eat with my siblings and nieces and nephew. There’s something special about sharing a meal with family that draws you closer together and gives you a sense of rest. Maybe you’ve had the opportunity to experience this recently too. I know I certainly have over the last several weeks through our fellowship time after service. If you haven’t been able to join us for that, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s one of those things that we’ve missed for nearly a year, but now that we have it back, I think we’re all realizing what we were missing. There’s something special about just getting to sit down with one another over some food and chat. It creates a sense of unity and hope as we journey through life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s something almost sacramental about these shared meals that draws people closer together, creates unity and hope, and gives us peace and rest together. We see this same sort of thing illustrated in our Gospel Reading for today.
2. Today’s Gospel Reading actually picks up immediately after last week’s reading. You may or may not recall, but at the beginning of last week’s reading, Jesus sent out the Twelve on a mission to heal the sick and the demon possessed and to preach and teach about the Kingdom of God. Most of the rest of last week’s Gospel, however, was the story about John the Baptist’s death, which we’ll actually revisit next weekend. But now that our reading picks up, the Twelve have returned from their mission, and notice what they’re called. The typical title for Jesus’ twelve followers in the Gospels is, “Disciples.” But here, they’re not called disciples. They’re called “Apostles.” In their words and deeds, the Twelve were sent out to bring the ministry and message of Jesus to all those whom they encountered. And so, they were not longer merely disciples, they were the “sent ones”—that is, they were Apostles. Of course, they will more formally and fully be commissioned as Apostles at the end of Mark’s Gospel. But in the meantime, Jesus has some more things to teach them. Jesus wants to give the Twelve what they need to sustain them in this new calling they have been given. So, he ways to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” But notice Mark’s comment in the following sentence. He notes that they haven’t been able to eat. So, we can see that whatever happens next, it’s going to involve rest and food. So, the disciples and Jesus get into a boat and they begin to cross the Sea of Galilee to find a quiet place to rest. But the crowd who had been following them around had other plans. See, this crowd had seen something different in Jesus. They were living in a chaotic world. So much of that world was sucking the life out of them—whether it was the occupying Romans, the oppressive religious leaders, or simply their unfulfilled hopes and expectations. So much of the world around them was sucking the life out of them. But in Jesus, they saw something different. I doubt many of them were able to put their finger on exactly what it was, but there was something different about Jesus. So, they saw where the boat was heading (the Sea of Galilee isn’t that large), and they ran around the shore of the lake to beat Jesus to the place where he was going. So, when the boat reached the shore, Jesus and his disciples were greeted by the massive crowd. And if I place myself on that boat in Jesus or the disciples’ shoes, I would have been really annoyed and frustrated at seeing the crowd. I mean, this crowd has been following us around for forever. I just want some quiet! But that’s not how Jesus responds. Notice what Mark tells us: He has compassion. That word “compassion” is the great Greek word splanchnizomai. He felt this deep, visceral care and compassion for these people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were wandering aimlessly, not knowing what they needed or how to get it. So, Jesus gave that crowd what they needed—he taught them about the kingdom of God until it was well past dinner time. It’s at this point that the disciples came up to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is late. send [the crowd] away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” You can understand the disciples’ concern—this is a massive group of people—5,000 men, not counting women and children (so probably more like 10,000-15,000 people total). But Jesus had something else in mind. He responded to his disciples by saying, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples are understandably confused. They said, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” Keep in mind, a denarius was one day’s wage, so 200 denarii was 200 days wages. If you convert that to modern terms, we’re talking about at least $16,000 to feed all of these people. Are you crazy, Jesus? But Jesus said to them, “How many leaves to you have? Go and see.” So, the disciples manages to scrounge up five loaves of bread and two fish. But here’s where things get really interesting. Jesus is about to invite his sheep to lie down in green pastures as he prepares a banquet for them (images of Psalm 23 should be in your mind). Jesus instructs the people to sit down on the green grass—literally to recline there. He takes the loaves and the fish and blesses them. He breaks the bread and distributes it to the crowd. And, amazingly, there is more than enough food for all 5,000+ people to eat their fill with twelve baskets of left overs! This is an incredible, miraculous moment where we see heaven and earth colliding. We see Jesus inviting his people to the Lord’s Table as they experience this almost sacramental moment as he gives them rest from the struggles of this life and hope for the life to come through this forecasts of that eternal life.
3. Doesn’t a moment like that sound incredible? Wouldn’t you do just about anything to find this kind of respite from our chaotic world that seems to suck the life out of us at every turn? Well, my friends, the good news is that Jesus is our Good Shepherd who leads us to green pastures and gives us rest as we’re connected to his life-giving resurrection at the Lord’s Table. It’s at the Lord’s Table where Jesus meets us with his very body and blood to grant us rest and hope as we wander through this chaotic, life-sucking world. He meets us here with a foretaste of the feast to come. I pray that week after week as Jesus invites you to His Table that you would continue to respond to his invitation with joy and that you would continually find rest and hope at the Lord’s Table until that day when we’re gathered in the green pastures of the new creation to sit with one another at our Lord’s Table for all eternity.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.