Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest for a while.” In desolation Jesus provides rest out of compassion for us.
Three times in our gospel text today we hear about the condition of the surroundings. Desolate. Come away to a desolate place, Jesus says. The disciples had just returned from their missionary journey. You know, the one — not two — tunic trek they took. The staff and sandals for walking, no money for spending spree they were on. The stay in a house but not long and shake off the dust when needed. This trip had ended and the disciples were whooped. Jesus had just learned of the death of his cousin John the Baptizer and they all needed to recuperate. The crowds were not allowing it. The desolate place seemed like an unlikely destination for refreshing, but when the crowds keep you from needed food — the creature comforts aren’t on the top of the list — so off they go to rest a while.
The disciples took a boat to a desolate place but the crowds saw where they were going, the crowds were so starstruck and perhaps desperate for compassion, that they followed and even passed and made it to the desolate place before the boat. Their lives of desolation led them to a place of desolation. Another miracle, another sign, another healing, another truth, they thirsted after the righteous branch’s security and they ran to see what they could have from Jesus. Their lives were desolate and desperate for more. And so the stage is set, the desolate people make it to the desolate place and the disciples and Jesus arrive.
Going ashore, Jesus surveys the situation and sees it just as He knew it to be, it was desolate. The condition of the crowds was the same as the crowds they attempted to leave. They were desolate souls. They were lost and empty, they were desperate and in need like sheep without a shepherd. Seeing this Jesus is moved with compassion. Literally His gut is wrenched as He looks on at their conditions and He has compassion on them and He begins to teach them.
The prophet Jeremiah warned with woes against shepherds who would scatter and destroy the sheep of God. Here the Good Shepherd is cleaning up the mess of the woeful scattering, inattentive and pushing that had been done by the shepherds of sin. Here Jesus teaches these neglected ones, Luke tells us Jesus taught about the kingdom. Luke also tells us Jesus cured those in need of healing. The shepherd Jesus cared for the forlorn flock taking care of their concerns while keeping them close.
Jesus preserves this desolate-place-sheep-fold for just a bit longer than the tuckered out disciples desired. They come to Jesus saying, “ahem, it’s a desolate place and it’s getting late these people need to eat.” Jesus invites His disciples to be His under-shepherds. Hey I’m tending the flock teaching, and healing, you can help too by feeding. He compassionately offers them a role in the kingdom work. The disciples quickly run some calculations or perhaps just spout off the million bucks figure of the day, “are we supposed to have 200 denarii to buy bread with?! 200 day’s wages?!”
Take an inventory, Jesus says, they do. I wonder what this crowd must’ve looked like. 5000 men and a quick survey finds only five loaves and two fish. John tells us that it was one boy who was prepared for the travails the day’s travels would bring. Only five loaves and two fish, yet more than enough for Jesus. After all, this is the One Who from nothing brought everything into existence. Have the sheep lay down in the green pastures Jesus says (that’s in Mark 6:39, as well as Psalm 23:2 for those keeping track). So the green grass in the midst of the desolate place becomes a table prepared for the families and groups. Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives to the disciples for the people. And the Word causes the five and two source to flow, feeding and satisfying the 5000 men, their companions, and the 12 baskets that were stuffed with pieces of bread and fish.
There’s no reaction of the crowd recorded. These day’s when when Oprah gives out cars, when Drew Carey get’s all Bob Barker with cars and trips and stacks of cash, and when Ellen distributes dance parties or whatever it is she gives, there is no lack of hoopla and applause. And slightly more devout sources from scripture in the context of healing and miracles show it’s not uncommon for those affected by the unnatural and unexpected to acknowledge it with astonishment and amazement , but here, nothing. The sheep are fed by the Good Shepherd and the day goes on into the next. Something incredible takes place and no one blinks an eye. Just like every other day.
We focus so much on the numbers that are given in this lesson we forget about the numbers that aren’t given. Jesus is on record as having fed the crowds here, but a bit wider reading of scripture will allow the record to show that it wasn’t just those in this desolate location that were recipients of the compassionate catering, but actually, the entire world at any given time, any mouth feeding is fed by the same Jesus. The Word made flesh who works it all according to the Father’s will along with the Holy Spirit provides all we need to support this body and life. This silent reaction in the face of a miracle is a picture of the yawn we get on the applause track of glory due God for all He does.
Jesus’ ministry of compassion flies in the face of a world that demands attraction. We must draw people — but no! — look what takes place a crowd chases the truth and the truth does what the truth does best: He tends and provides rest. It’s a real picture of what “love the one you’re with” is supposed to look like. Jesus compassionately cares for the ones who are close — no matter who they are or when their need arises. Jesus work is best seen against a backdrop of desolation. The despairing soul is the soul in need of what Jesus gives. The weary and broken are those who can be rested and mended. The proud and “ok for today, I guess” are limping along to their own demise. But a broken and contrite heart He will not despise. It’s when we come to the end of what we think we can do that Jesus steps in and does for us.
The disciples were tired. They were weary but they thought they were able to lead the people to food. They thought they could buy the food — or not — but Jesus looks at their inventory list and tells them, yup you don’t have enough, but that’s ok because I’m more than enough. I’m the God who reveals himself in the midst of helplessness. I’m not for the strong and victorious and the #winning. No, I’m for you — the reality of what you are if you’re willing to admit your need for it — I’m for you.
I think it was Luther who once said that an empty stomach preaches a sermon to us every time it grumbles. There’s a need for something outside of ourselves that we cannot on our own, within our own skin provide, but there’s the one who took on our skin to give it all for us. Here in the Gospel of Mark He fills stomachs and souls and today in this place He fills you with compassion overflowing.
Where’s your desolate place? Which area of your life is in need of some green grass refreshing? Is it failing family health? Is it the red ink of a perpetually empty checking account? Is it broken relationships? Is it loneliness? Is it betrayal? Is it feelings of uselessness? What leaves you parched, thirsting for more? Is it sins? Is it guilt? Is it the shame of things done to you? What leaves you left in despair? Because in the midst of whatever causes you to despair, you need to hear truth today. There is so much more than despair for you. We have a God who is moved with compassion at the sight of needs like yours. He comes to you, no check that He runs to you, chasing you even when you don’t want to hear. He lets you know that, yes you don’t have enough. You need more than you have and you know what? He gives it to you. He gives it all to you, all He is, is yours. The righteous branch takes root in your tilled soil soul and He grows in you causing you to flourish in Him.
Where’s you desolate place? Let’s turn it around. Where’s your flourishing place in life? What’s your best, your boast, your most? Where’s your pride? Is it your strong health, your flush accounts, your best friends, your many relationships, your track record of positivity, your powerful productivity? Are you satisfied with having? I said it earlier, our God is best seen in the midst of desolation. There’s a reason the rich young man had trouble entering the kingdom and the prostitutes and drunkards didn’t. They knew their standing and the young man thought he did. Like the worst, the best will not last and in the end apart from Christ, good or bad, nothing will last. Where are your earthly confidences laid? One day they will leave you empty handed. Where are your spiritual confidences laid? Are they in your righteousness, your goodness, your piety, yourself? Apart from Him comes nothing worth having. Apart from Jesus is nothing but desolation. Found in desolation there’s only one place to turn, it’s to the place of perfect compassion.
Come to the desolate place with Jesus and rest in Him. You don’t have to bring anything. In fact you can’t! He gives you everything and it’s only when you realize you have nothing but mess that He steps in to bless! The waters of baptism we witnessed for Daisy remind us of the reality He worked for you in that same washing of rebirth and renewal. The meal we gather for at this rail in His temple will give you everything needful to support this body and life. It is Him within and for you and in the words of life, that you know His compassion.
Jesus was not unfamiliar with desolation. From the forty days of temptations He faced at the beginning of His ministry to the desolation of the cross and many places in between, Jesus was no stranger to desolation. These book-ended his ministry and in each desolate place the power of God is revealed. In the temptation in the wilderness the power of the Word won over the deceiver who would ignore and twist and redefine God’s Word. In that wilderness place, Jesus said man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God, and so Jesus lived, journeyed, ministered all the way to the cross.
And on the cross was where the Word of God which says “the wages of sin is death” and “the soul who sins shall die” was spoken against the one bearing your sins. He was left alone. He was abandoned by friends and denied by the Father. Jesus was left to die in a desolate place that everyone else avoided. Yet because He remained in desolation, you don’t have to. Out of mercy and compassion for the whole world, He remained in desolation so no one would have to. The fury in this desolate place means your desolation while real and stinky and sometimes long will not have the last word. Desolation cannot hold our God back. His compassion is stronger. His compassion overcomes the death that would otherwise defeat us. The compassion of God breaks the grave open. It crushes the head of the one who would have you despair or even dance away from God. Our compassionate God flourishes in desolation and gives us lives overflowing with His steadfast love.
And as He is risen, so we are fed. The bread of man may leave us wanting more but the food of God nourishes us for eternity. He is moved by compassion to work for you today and always. And so moves through you to be compassionate to all around you. May His compassionate rest be yours today.
In Jesus’ name.