Mark 6:30-34 (Parallel in Luke 9)
This passage is a follow-up to Jesus sending out the twelve, two by two, with authority to preach, cast out demons and heal (See 6:7-13). So now, “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught” (30). Jesus here refers to them as “apostles,” which means, “sent ones” or “messengers.” It is a very fitting term to use for those who have just returned from their first preaching tour. These “sent ones” are in training—they’ve observed Jesus’ ministry, they’ve participated in it and now they are doing what they’ve seen and heard their Master, the Christ, say and do. From the get go, Jesus wanted His ministry to be their ministry too, to have them share with Him in the work and also to enjoy its fruits.
So now they have proclaimed the Kingdom of God in word and in deed to a number of villages, and they have just returned–how did this turn out? We don’t have specifics, but we read in both Mark and Luke’s accounts (Luke 9) that the disciples reported back to Jesus what they did and what they taught. Jesus wanted to get them alone and on retreat for a time of debriefing; but their debriefing didn’t last too long, because the crowds again learned of their whereabouts and sought them out. If we look to John’s Gospel account, it appears that their time alone was not only in the boat, but also a couple of hours or so on a mountain after reaching shore (John 6:1-7). Nevertheless, their time together was not long, and soon the crowd was moving toward them.
Now, had I been one of the disciples, I would not have been overly enthused upon seeing the crowds once again heading our way with their demands. However, Jesus’ reaction is very different from what mine would be. He welcomed them, He felt sorry for them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” They had no leaders to care for them and guide them into God’s Kingdom. King Herod was too busy throwing parties and beheading God’s prophet (John the Baptist). The religious leaders were all about protecting their positions and competing with each other for power. Their method was to make Israel a people of the Law. But when Jesus saw them, His heart went out to them, “So he began teaching them many things” (34). He again preached to them about the Kingdom of God—God’s redemptive reign in Christ–and He healed their diseases.
Nothing much has changed since then. In the disciples (Jesus’ “sent ones”) Jesus was building the foundation for what would be the Church. It is for the purpose of God’s redemptive mission that Jesus created the Church—an assembly of believers gathered together in community, growing in Christ through Word, sacrament and fellowship, and taking the Gospel of redemption in Christ to every corner of the globe: to Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
So how do we see the crowds? Does our heart go out to those we see every day, in compassion, because they too are “like sheep without a shepherd”? Still today, Jesus’ words apply to us too: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Heavenly Father, we give you praise for including us in what you are doing in the world today. Let us, as your sent ones, see others through the eyes of your Son, and fill our hearts with your love for them.