The Apostles return to absolute bedlam; it seems that everyone is clamouring for Jesus and for help as they begin the process of repentance. Reading between the lines, this means that those two by two apostolic journeys were wildly successful AND that people are looking for a new anchor because the news of the death of St John the Baptist has reached them (with all the accompanying grief, consternation, panic, and bewilderment that goes with it).
So it is surprising that Jesus says, ‘let’s get some peace and quiet’? No.
Would you, too, be running after the only person left who has all the answers and can make sense of this mess, whatever it took to do so? You betcha.
When they all converge on this lonely, deserted spot, Jesus has deep compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
What does a sheep without a shepherd look like? Good question.
Something like this:
A well cared for sheep should have looked something like this:
So should a domesticated sheep go missing it is going to be a lot heavier and with much greater wool growth than the wild version.
Unshorn wool is heavy, dirty and usually full of parasites. Without the premium grazing, a sheep is going to be eating what it can, and will be at more than usual risk of internal worms. Without regular care, hooves become infected, and knees become inflamed, making mobility difficult. Less mobility means less food, and weakened ewes will not produce enough milk to nourish lambs. Without the usual husbandry separations, inbreeding will occur with other uncared for sheep. More wool than usual will also be more wool over the eyes, reducing visibility.
A sheep that has been a few years without a shepherd is either dead, or a very sorry sight indeed.
Jesus saw these crowds as they were, overburdened, unhealthy, hurting and uncomfortable on the inside and on the outside (and unable to scratch the itches, and unable to rid themselves of the external and internal parasites), lame, blind, grieving over little ones who shouldn’t have died young, malnourished, and totally miserable.
But Jesus also saw them as they were supposed to be, quick, nimble, healthy, frolicking, joyful and contented, and producing lots of quality wool, milk and lambs.
And Jesus, the master good shepherd, knew exactly what was needed, and started the lengthy arduous task of bringing them back to full health, to the best that He knew it was possible for them to be – the best the Father had destined for them from the beginning.
He started that tasking with teaching, with teaching them the truth, and helping them to apply it to their regular lives.
It wasn’t all He did, Jesus also nourished them through the miracle of the multiplication of food, as the verses after Mark 6:34 tell us. But for the next few weeks we are going to be reading from St John’s version of this miracles and its implications in his Chapter 6.
The take away from this Gospel passage is that Jesus sees us, and He fully understands the bedraggled state we are in. But He also sees us in the fulness of what He created us to be. He alone knows how to get us from our current state, to that happy, healthy and productive state.
But to get from here to there, but we will have to fully trust Him and His process. Some of it won’t be very nice (shearing, sheep dip, worm removal medicine, hoof clipping, knee splinting, times of segregation from other parts of the flock, internal and external examinations etc) but we will feel and look so much better afterwards.
The challenge is, will we say Yes to Him and to His process?
Or will we begin for a while, and run away before it is completed?
Or will we just run away and attempt to take care of ourselves again?
Remember, very few survive going it alone without a shepherd, and they don’t thrive.
May He please help us to say a committed, and enduring, Yes to Him.
May He help us to remain, and not resist and kick up a fuss, when the processes are awkward and painful.
May He, in His great mercy and compassion, bring us to the fulness of health and well-being that He has always wanted for us.
Amen. Amen. Amen!