Read Mark 6:47-52. My focus is v50b “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,”
Those simple red-letter sentences are the summation of real good news for friends of Jesus that are worn out from fighting the storm. The story ends in Mark 6 with those friends that knew Jesus best being amazed and terrified when he showed up in such an unusual way. They had invested their life completely in following Jesus and even with all their firsthand evidence they didn’t quite understand what to expect from him. Verse 52 says “their hearts were hardened.” How could that possibly be?
I don’t know about you but the thrust of much of what I watch or read about the world today is at best sad and at worst scary. It’s a harsh reality to face the fact that just like those other friends of his, I have to blink twice to recognize that Jesus is more than a ghost in today’s broken world. My heart has been hardened by struggling to understand the evening news instead of that good news. I can’t figure out what to expect from current events but I think there’s a solution. I’m just trying to blink twice so I can see a new reality that Jesus is in the boat with us and take him at his word in this storm. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,”
31b “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
37b “You give them something to eat.”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
Mark sandwiches the grim story of the beheading of John the Baptist right in the middle of this chapter. The same story in Matthew 14 indicates the events of this chapter are recorded in chronological order and the timeline appears to be the same year as the feeding of the five thousand. I wonder why there are no red letter quotes from Jesus? That’s a mystery.
It makes sense that Jesus would recognize their need for rest and maybe even a time to grieve for John. That may have been his goal but neither of those things happened because of the pressing needs of the crowd. I love these disciples because they are just ordinary people. Their heart’s goal was to secure the future of the people around them with the truth that Jesus has taught them but…wait for it…the needs were so big and they had so little. Jesus is teaching THEM about the priority of need over goals.
It sounds like life today. In our goal-oriented society it still sounds impossible that the smallest effort might be enough to make a big difference. Goals are important but needs are the immediate pathway that gets you one step nearer to them. Jesus is trying to teach US about the priority of need over goals today and his solution is still the same…”Go and see.”
Mark 6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The hometown boy has returned with his disciples, acting like a Rabbi and ready to speak and teach in the synagogue. “Many who heard him were amazed.” Doesn’t that sound like a positive thing? It wasn’t. They were victims of familiarity. They’d watched Jesus grow up. They knew his history and they were certain of what they knew about him. They were so certain about what they imagined Jesus to be that he was unable to show them the reality of who he was.
That reminded me of a not-quite-fictional novel, The Imaginary Jesus, written by Matt Mikalatos. It’s a similar story to this one Mark writes about. Both are meant to challenge us to consider our own preconceived notions of who Jesus is, how much we know about him, how he’s supposed to act and whether we put our faith in the real Jesus or what we imagine him to be. Like those hometown people we can be so familiar with Jesus that we put our faith in what we already know about him and he is no longer able to build our faith on the reality of who he wants to be in our lives, a friend and our Savior
Mark 5:21 – 43 This may not be as familiar story as the others in Mark 5 but it’s a dramatic finale to a desperate story of need. Jesus had crossed to the other side of the lake and from another large crowd one of the synagogue leaders came forward and fell at Jesus’s feet. He pleaded earnestly “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him but some from the house of Jairus said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus responded: •V36b. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
Only Peter, James and John followed him to the home. Jesus’s response to the people crying and wailing was
V39b. “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed at him. He took only the child’s father and mother and the disciples in where the child was. Jesus took her hand and said to her,
•V41b. “Talitha koum!”…“Little girl, I say to you, get up!”
The 12-year old girl astonished them and stood up and began to walk around. Jesus gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
These stories of the people Mark writes about seem to have a common thread…they all have a great need. They don’t approach Jesus with any claims of faith at all. All they have is their need and a little bit of courage to act. Maybe “need” is the reality of faith.
I remember hearing faith was “OK if that was something you need” and being unable to respond. It felt as if need was a weakness and faith like some kind of treatment that could cure you of that. I was embarrassed by that idea. It turns out that statement was exactly true. It’s the courage of need that drives you to the great physician. You don’t get treatment you need unless you make the appointment and tell the doctor your symptoms.
That’s my growing edge; to let the courage of need become what Jesus builds my faith on.
Mark 5:24 – 32. You surely know this story of one needy woman in a large crowd following Jesus. With one timid touch her life is changed forever after years of suffering being unclean because of bleeding that no amount of doctoring or money could cure. She was left unable to participate in any of the life affirming rituals of Jewish law. And Jesus says…
30b “Who touched my clothes?”
34b “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
There was a life and death principle to the Jewish purity laws. This woman wasn’t unclean because of anything she’d done. She was impure because her years of continual bleeding were viewed by law as the loss of potential life and kept her perpetually separated from the ritual practices that could connect her to God.
Her need was so great that she was willing to take one timid step to reach out and secretly touch Jesus’s clothes. She knew Jesus would be defiled by her touch and that act could be punishable by death. A timid step and a secret touch was enough for her new beginning!…but when Jesus stopped and turned around to ask who’d touched him she was terrified. Now what had been one secret touch became a far more public risk she had to take…confess. She “came and fell at his feet “and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.” He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
We don’t subscribe to ritual purity anymore but this woman’s story is the story of faith today as well. Faith still begins by taking one timid step in belief Jesus has the power to respond to our need. It’s in confessing the whole truth of our need for that relationship with Jesus that we are freed to enjoy the potential of life God intends for us, without depending on ritual.
You probably know the story in Mark 5:1 – 20
Jesus is confronted by a demon possessed man of great strength. This man lived in the tombs, and had broken free of his chains and irons. Night and day he wandered among the tombs and in the hills crying out and cutting himself with stones. The demons begged Jesus to let them come out and go into the pigs and they all rushed into the lake and drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported to the town’s people who went out to see what had happened. They saw the healed man sitting there, dressed and in his right mind and they were afraid. They pleaded with Jesus to leave but the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus tells him “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.
Jesus knows when evil is present and evil is clever enough to try to use God’s name in an effort to play on Jesus’s sympathy. Jesus is interested in more than just confronting evil – he must destroy it in order to save a man from the demons that bedevil him and give him the courage to speak of how much the Lord has done and the he has shown.