” . . . and all who touched it were healed” Mark 6:56
The verses we read from Saint Mark Chapter 6 have a common thread running through them, people come to Jesus in their time of need and Jesus responds to that need, whatever it might be. If we were looking for an acronym by which to remember the points made by Saint Mark in these verses, we could use the word “acre”: “A”for “aimless”, “C” for “compassion”, “R” for “response”, and “E” for “evangelize”.
The crowd following Jesus are aimless people because they do not know what they are seeking and they do not know where they are going. Saint Mark tells us in Verse 31 that “many were coming and going”. These wandering crowds have so much intruded upon Jesus’ life that he and the disciples have not even the opportunity to sit down for a meal. Jesus tries to escape from the crowd, for a while at least, taking his disciples with him, “they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves”, says Verse 32. Their efforts at finding quietness are unsuccessful, the crowds realize that the boat contains Jesus and his friends and they rush around the shore of the lake and arrive at the landing place before the boat has reached it.
What was going through the minds of the people who followed Jesus? Some were probably just curious, some may have been religious people hoping to hear words of wisdom, many were probably desperate people hoping that Jesus would give them help they could find nowhere else. There was no common purpose, no common direction, no aim that united them, Verse 34 says that “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
The people who followed Jesus on the lakeshore were not so different from people today. We live in times of “coming and going”, where people are searching often without knowing why they are searching or what it is they are seeking. Look at the shelves of the bookshops in the sections marked “mind, body and spirit”, and you will see all sorts of religions and all sorts of spirituality on offer, as if these were things to buy over the counter. We live in aimless times where people come and go without a sense of direction.
The people come seeking Jesus, they come for all sorts of reasons, they come unsure of what to expect. Verse 34 tells us that, “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them . . . and he began to teach them many things.” The people come to Jesus and Jesus responds, Jesus had “compassion” on them says Saint Mark. The word Mark uses literally means he had a feeling in his guts for them. Gut feeling is something that cannot be avoided, it is how we feel instinctively, and Jesus instinctively cares for those who have gathered. Among them there were probably many difficult people, many people whom others would have avoided, but Jesus turns no-one away.
Jesus responds to everyone, no matter how disagreeable they may be, with compassion. When we look at ourselves, can we say we follow his example? Wouldn’t it be likely that we would want nothing to do with most of the people Jesus accepts? The feeling he has for people should ask questions of us.
“Aimless”, “compassion”, the third word is “rushed”. Jesus and his friends cross the lake in a vain attempt at escape and the crowds are standing and waiting for them. Verses 54-55 catch a sense of the urgency felt by those people. “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.” They “rushed” about the area, perhaps telling others, perhaps trying to bring people to see Jesus while there was an opportunity. Getting to see Jesus was the single most important thing in their lives, it was their priority, everything else could be set aside, everything else could wait; going to see this man was all that mattered.
We look at their response to Jesus and we look at our own, and they are probably not comparable. Our faith in Jesus is not often a priority for us, it is not often something that will make us set everything else aside, it is not often something to which we will respond with urgency. People will take our faith as seriously as we take it, so if we want to ask why the church today is not like the church of the early times, we need to ask how much these things matter to us, and if our faith is not something that grabs our own life, then how shall we expect it to challenge the life of anyone else?
The final letter is “E” for “evangelised.” Being evangelised simply means having heard the Good News, an evangelist was simply someone who, like Saint Mark, shared the Good News. The Good News of Jesus changed people’s lives, it brought many sorts of healing into the lives of those who heard it. Verse 56 say, “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” The people come to Jesus and he responds. Healing was about being made whole, it might mean being healed of some physical ailment, it might mean being healed in mind or in spirit. Being healed meant receiving the Good News, it meant being evangelised.
Our faith today should be about bringing healing into people’s lives, about bringing the Good News. In the First Letter to the Thessalonians Chapter 5 Verse 14-15, Saint Paul sets down what being evangelised should include, “And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.” If we lived out those words, if we made a priority of seeking “to do good to one another and to all,” how much diiferent the church would be, how much different we would be.
Aimless, compassion, rushed, and evangelised – four words reminding us of people who needed Jesus and how he responded to those needs, four words that ask us questions about the place our faith has in our lives.