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Readings: 7th Sunday after Trinity

by
10 July 2015

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2 Samuel 7.1-14a; Psalm 89.20-37; Ephesians 2.11-end; Mark 6.30-34; 53-end

 

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

BIBLES with helpful sub-headings introduce the section of Mark’s Gospel which begins at Mark 6.30 as “Feeding the Five Thousand”. Expectations will not be fulfilled this week, however, because the lectionary omits that event altogether, and concentrates instead on the events that frame it: the return of the Twelve from their mission (Mark 6.30-34), and their crossing to Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee after the feeding (Mark 6.53-end).

Two reasons for this strategic cutting suggest themselves. The first is that, by ignoring the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes, it is possible to focus intently on the dynamic between Jesus and the disciples. The second is that, from next week, we enter a short interlude in which the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel will provide the Gospel readings. The mystery of bread offered by Jesus in abundance to hungry crowds, and what it means, lies at the heart of the question “Who is Jesus?” which we have been pursuing with Mark.

The returning missionaries are excited and exhausted. They have much to tell, and their activities have left them with little time to rest or eat. Jesus recommends a time of seclusion, when they can be on their own and concentrate on recovering their energies. This plan is thwarted by the eager crowds, who now recognise not only Jesus, but also his followers as figures of power (Mark 6.12-13), and rush to meet them as they arrive in their place of retreat.

Jesus’s concern that the Twelve should have some time off does not include himself. Seeing the advancing throngs, his heart goes out to them (the Greek word much more graphically expresses the wrenching of the internal organs in human response than its translation “had compassion”, Mark 6.34), and he teaches them, because they have been failed by all the neglectful shepherds who have neither cared for them nor fed them (Numbers 27.17; 1 Kings 22.17; Judith 11.19; Ezekiel 34.8; Zechariah 10.2).

What follows is a scene that will be familiar to anyone who has grown up in a household presided over by an impulsively hospitable parent, never inhibited in asking people at a loose end to join the family meal, and never in doubt that the family will hold back to make provisions stretch. We skip over the disciples’ dismay at having to share the food they had been looking forward to eating quietly with Jesus (Mark 6.35-40) — though noting its subtle modulation of the mood. When the remains of the meal have been collected, Jesus insists that the disciples go ahead, while he dismisses the crowd and goes away to pray (Mark 6.45).

There is more than a hint that Jesus is angry. His followers have let him down by their lack of compassion, their lack of understanding that not only their food, but also their teacher, must be shared and not selfishly guarded.

We meet them again as they disembark, this time with Jesus, who has astonished them by walking on the sea to join them (Mark 6.47-48). Once more, frenzy greets their arrival (Mark 6.33 and 55), and healings accompany Jesus all around the region. He is spoken of in the singular, perhaps because he has had to begin from scratch to teach the disciples how to be generous givers of themselves in making God’s Kingdom come.

In the second chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, attention shifts from the proclaimers of the Kingdom to its intended citizens. The writer is assuring his Gentile audience that eligibility for relationship with God is not determined by their pagan origins, nor by the absence of the humanly imposed mark of circumcision (Ephesians 2.11).

The point at issue is not the racial and ritual differences between Jew and Gentile, but the possibility of sharing in the covenant between God and those to whom God promises to be faithful (2 Samuel 7.12-14 is an outstanding example of this covenantal obligation).* The Mosaic covenant included instructions for the treatment of strangers and resident aliens (Exodus 22.21; Leviticus 19.33-34; Deuteronomy 10.18). But all estrangement from the heritage previously offered only to the people of Israel is overwritten in Christ’s gift of his own flesh to make all flesh “one humanity”. Surely this is one of the most radiant explanations of the theology of the cross (Ephesians 2.15-16).**

 

 

* John Muddiman, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Continuum, 2001)  

** See J. D. G. Dunn, “Ephesians” in The Oxford Bible Commentary (OUP, 2001)

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