Feeding the Five Thousand
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Mark 6:30-34, 54-56 (NRSV)
This morning’s scripture is a little confusing. It begins by saying that Jesus and the disciples were on their way to an isolated location to take sabbath, to rest because they were so busy preaching, teaching, and healing that they hadn’t even had time to even eat. So, Jesus decided to take his disciples on a little get-away, a long weekend if you will, to give them some time to recharge their batteries. But when they got there, thousands of people had followed them. If we had read a little more of the scripture, we would have seen that by the time evening came, the disciples were really tired and a bit anxious with the crowd. After all, they went into the desert to rest because they were already weary. But Jesus recognized that, like sheep without a shepherd, the people that had come needed something. And even though they were tired and in need of rest, Jesus and his disciples were being called to give them what they needed, out of compassion.
Has there ever been a time in which you felt so overworked, so overwhelmed, so anxious that you just couldn’t wait to get away from it all? You just weren’t feeling like yourself, your productivity was lacking, and your family seemed to be at their wit’s end with each other? If even the smallest thing went awry, a fight would ensue, and the whole house wouldn’t be talking to each other for days? So, you decide that taking a long weekend away would fix everything.
At my house, two of our rainy day “go-to” movies are the 2003 remake of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and the 2005 movie sequel “Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” both starring Steve Martin as Tom Baker and Bonnie Hunt as Kate Baker, along with the rest of the Baker family. In the first movie, Tom Baker accepts his dream job of being the head coach of his college alma mater, while Kate Baker fulfills her dream when she publishes her first book. Each of the twelve Baker children has their own personality and interests, but as we discover in the movie, even though being a member of a family with twelve children is difficult, being a family is what is ultimately important.
In Cheaper by the Dozen 2, the Baker family is facing major changes, with three out of the twelve children now off to college and one starting a family of her own. The ties that bind seem to be wearing thin. So, Tom and Kate decided that what the family needs is one last family vacation up to the family’s favorite vacation spot, Lake Winnetka. As they haven’t been there in years, the family remembers the lake house as a pristine lake retreat perfect for family fun on the lake and roasting marshmallows by the fire. But when they arrive, what they find is a run-down house with a rotting dock. And to make matters worse, Tom discovers that his college rival, Jimmy Murtaugh, played by Eugene Levy, and his family now own half the lake.
Throughout the movie, we watch as Tom tries to compete with Jimmy and all the mishaps that befall Tom as he works to give his family the extravagant vacation he thinks they need. By the end of the movie we discover that what the family needed was not the lavish vacation home with a pristine dock, a fancy speedboat, and every water toy known to man, but the old, lived-in, cozy cottage, with the dock in need of a little TLC, and a motorboat that may or may not start the first time you pull the cord. What the family needed, like “sheep without a shepherd” was a place to go to find community, to find peace and wholeness for who they were right then and there, not who they thought they wanted to be.
Throughout the movie we hear Kate, the voice of reason, reminding Tom at every turn to ask the family what they wanted, to ask the family what they needed. Much like Kate did in the movie, Jesus, when he got out of that boat, recognized that the people that had followed them needed something. They didn’t need a lot, and they didn’t need anything lavish, but what they needed was a place to connect in community, to be cared for as they were, where they were, right in that moment.
All too often, our lives get so busy that we forget to ask ourselves what it is that we need. We think we know what we need because society and the media tell us exactly what we want. When life gets out of control, we need that perfect family trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas, the luxury suite with the crisp white sheets, crystal clear water, and white sand beach, and amazing waterslides for days. The X-Box lounge and kids’ camp make it perfect for every member of the family to get away and find a space for themselves, to relax and leave the craziness of the world behind. That is exactly what we all need, right?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure all of us want to, and hopefully will at some point, have the perfect vacation like that. But is it really want we need, or is it what we want? If we listen with compassion to ourselves, to our families, and to those in our community, do we need that perfect getaway spot, or do we simply want it?
What do we need as individuals and as a community to feel whole, be happy, to lead fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world? What do we need to feel like we belong and have a place in world?
In today’s scripture, as with many others in the gospel of Mark, the needs seem clear – people who are sick and want to be healed, people who are hungry and want to be fed. And without a doubt, there are those with various combinations of needs all around us. Some of those needs are apparent and obvious because they are happening right in our own community or in the wider community. In this case, we can respond to the needs in very concrete ways. We are able to create food banks, soup kitchens, clothing and supply drives. We can provide transportation to doctors’ appointments or urgent care visits.
In other cases, there are less tangible needs. Our scripture this morning tells us that when Jesus arrived, the crowd was like “lost sheep without a shepherd.” Upon arriving and seeing the crowd that had gathered, Jesus didn’t heal the sick or feed the hungry. He first reached out and met the crowd where they were. He taught, he preached, and he opened them up to the power and possibility of living in God’s Kingdom. He taught them about the healing power of living in a community that is kind, compassionate, and just to all of God’s creation. And after healing the community as a whole, Jesus then began the work of healing the individual.
In the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” Tom Baker initially recognized that he and his family needed to get away, to find a place of rest. What Tom failed to recognize was that what his family needed first was healing as a community. The family, much like the house they were staying in, didn’t need instant healing from whatever needs they had. They needed to be met where they were, right there in that moment, in order to recognize the possibilities and to experience how powerful they were as a community before their individual needs could be healed. It was only when Tom discovered this truth and laid down his image of a pristine vacation home and perfect family that his family became the team he had lovingly remembered from years past.
Jesus, though exhausted, recognized that in order to get the rest he so needed, he needed to equip the community that called for his attention with the knowledge that possibility and power lie in the community that is living into the call that is given to them from God. Jesus decided that, although he had the ability to heal and the meet each individual need, he would not heal the community until he compassionately taught them God’s true intent for the community. The individuals in the community that had gathered would never be fully healed until the community that had gathered was able to live into God’s vision on kindness, compassion, and justice for all its members.
As a community of faith, we can be like Tom Baker. We can recognize the apparent needs in our community. We can replace the rotted boards of the dock. We can give the worn walls a fresh coat of paint. We can create food pantries and collect clothing and supplies. All of that is work that needs to be done, and all of that is work that helps build ties and bonds in the community. All of that work helps build a strong community. We are also called to be like Kate, hearing the unspoken needs of the community. We will continue to struggle to feel like we belong. We can compassionately listen and observe the wider community and begin the work of healing those invisible needs.
Jesus was tired. Jesus could have simply healed each person in the crowd and went on his way. Jesus could have been taking a much-needed nap under a tree by noon, but he chose, with great compassion, to recognize the needs of not only the individuals but also the community. He chose to heal the community as a whole and then the individuals, knowing that God’s Kingdom could not be recognized unless all were a part of the process.
Yes, there are individuals in our community that are in need of healing. They are ill. They are hungry. They have a multitude of needs, and yes, with compassion, we need to continue to meet those individual needs. But like Tom Baker, we also have to recognize our wants versus the actual needs of the community as a whole, because our wants may not fill the needs of the community we are called to serve.
Tom Baker wanted to give his family the perfect family vacation in a perfect house by the lake, with the perfect dock and the shiniest boat. But what his family needed was a home with four walls, a dock to jump into the lake from, and a campfire to roast marshmallows over.
We may want to have a church building that boasts a modern, updated kitchen that hosts a soup kitchen that feeds five hundred once a week. We may want a congregation of seven hundred people that worship together every week. We may want all of the maintenance of the building to be done ahead of schedule, with a lawn that grows thick and green. But maybe what we are really called to be is the place where those that are grieving, where those that feel lost, where those who feel like outcasts can come to find refuge. Maybe we are called to be a compassionate community that offers a listening ear, a warm cookie, and a space to worship.
Whatever this community of faith is called to be will only be made known when we, as Jesus did, recognize that we are a part of a wider community that needs our compassionate presence. As a faith community, it is our ability to listen compassionately to each other and to those we encounter every day that will enable us to recognize not only the apparent needs but also the less-tangible needs of those not only in our small community but also the wider community. It is our ability as a compassionate presence that will help us find our place in our wider community. It is our steadfast compassion that will invite others to experience and be a part of God’s Kingdom.
As we go out this week, let us practice compassion, not only in our family and in our faith community, but in the wider community. Let us be present to needs that are not apparent, and let us recognize when we are superimposing our wants over someone else’s needs. Let us come back together next week with our eyes opened to the possibilities of having compassionately discovered a new way of how we may bring God’s Kingdom into this faith community as well as the wider community.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, thank You for our ability to see with compassion the needs within ourselves, our family, and our faith community. Please grant us patience and wisdom, like Your Son Jesus Christ, to recognize the greater needs of the community and the ability to set aside our own needs for those of the community. May we be steadfast in our call to bring Your Kingdom into our world. In the name of Your Son and our Savior Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.