Had Jesus lived in the Twenty-First Century and not the First Century, would it have been possible for him to have done things the way he did? A Twenty First Century Jesus would be surrounded by staff: a personal assistant, an office manager, a public relations officer, researchers, consultants, and a string of others. Should that seem implausible, look at the number of staff now required for a bishop in the Church of England. The Jesus we meet in the Gospel reading would disappear behind a professional bureaucracy.
Saint Mark tells us in Chapter 6 Verse 31 that “many were coming and going”. Far from retreating into an office, Jesus has engaged with people to the point of not having 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.” Follow discussions on social media, and people haven’t changed in twenty centuries, they will still go with simplistic explanations and unthinking prejudice.
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. It is a very different reaction to churches in our own times who will put themselves first to the extent of covering up cases of child abuse. 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 reactions to those on the margins now, how different are they? Most people would want nothing to do with most of the people Jesus accepts.
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.” Jesus offered them something different from religion, to the point that they set everything else aside.
The presence 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 responded. 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.
Compare this itinerant preacher standing on the lakeshore with the vast bureaucratic organisation that is the church and they seem very different. Would lives have been changed by strange words, strange dress and strange behaviour? Would people have run around the lake to meet someone from an office?