The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And 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.
Translation: And the apostles were gathered together to Jesus, and they told him all that they did and taught. And he said to them, "Come by yourselves into a deserted place and rest a little." For many were coming and going, and they were not having a good time to eat. And they went away into a deserted place in a boat by themselves. And many saw them going and knew them. And on foot from all the towns they ran there together and went before them. And coming out, he saw a large crowd, and he was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep not having a shepherd, and he began to teach them much.
And crossing over, they came upon the ground into Gennesaret and they were drawn to shore. And when they got out of the boat, immediately they knew him. They ran about that whole region, and they began having to carry the sick upon the pallets where they were hearing that he is. And where he was coming in--into villages and into cities and into fields--they were laying the weak in the marketplaces and they were exhorting him so that they might touch the hem of his garment, and as many as touched him were being saved.
Background and situation: The lection begins following Mark's account of the death of John the Baptist (6:17-29). The opening verses of the reading tell of the return of the apostolic mission begun in 6:7-13.
The gap in the middle of the reading is Mark's account of the feeding of the 5000. That story will appear in next week's lection, though the text will be from John and not Mark. Unfortunately, this means that people will miss Mark's rich theology expressed in his two feeding stories. The first one (Mark 6), in a Jewish region, reconciles Jews. The second one (Mark 8), on gentile territory, reconciles gentiles.
Matthew's parallel is 14:13-14:21 and 14:34-35; Luke's is 9:10-9:17. Note also the contrast between the Black Mass of Herod in 6:14-29 and the Great Thanksgiving of Jesus in 6:34-43. (The fourth gospel's feeding story is 6:1-14.)
Apostolic mission: Mark here (6:30) refers to the disciples as "apostles," the only such use of the word "apostle" in Mark's gospel. The disciples had been sent out (6:7) to have "authority over unclean spirits." They were allowed only instruments for traveling (sandals, walking stick) but not daily sustenance (bread, money).
This missionary endeavor was an inauguration into apostleship, practice for the day when Jesus would not be physically present with them. After this use of "apostles," Mark will return to referring to the disciples as "disciples" for the remainder of his account. (Curiously, though Jesus sent the disciples out without money or food, somehow they wind up with both. See 6: 37-38.)
The disciples "gathered together to Jesus" and told him of their missionary experience. Jesus says they should go off by themselves--kat' idian--and "rest a little." The expression, kat' idian, "by themselves," is used seven times in Mark, always editorially, and always to signal a special teaching moment for the disciples.
The stated reason for leaving is because of the dense crowds. So many people were around--so many had flocked to Jesus--that they could not find a spare moment to eat. (Eating, of course, will be a major theme in the feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6:35-52, which, unfortunately, the lectionary does not make available to our congregants in year B, the year of Mark.)
Jesus and the disciples head for a "deserted place," but "many saw them going and knew them." NRSV has "recognized them." The word is ginosko, a term indicating "knowing" in an intimate and profound way.
The people "knew" Jesus, and huge numbers "from all the towns" come to that "deserted place" where they anticipate he will be. A "large crowd" is assembled. The Jesus movement is swelling and hitting its stride.
Seeing the large crowd, Jesus is "moved with compassion"--splagchnizomai, "moved in the bowels," or "having one's 'guts' torn apart." He was moved because the people were "like sheep without a shepherd," a line of great portent, with political implications.
Sheep without a shepherd: The reference is to Number 27: 16-17: "Let the Lord...appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd."
The one appointed in Numbers is Joshua--yeshua, in Hebrew, the same name as Jesus, a serendipity that, in my view, Mark fully intends.
Similarly, Ezekial 34 speaks of shepherds who do not feed the sheep, and Zechariah 11 says "their own shepherds have no pity on them." Thus, drawing from the prophetic tradition, "sheep without a shepherd" is a critique of a ruling religious class which does not care about the people.
Moreover, the subsequent feeding prepares the people for that time when Jesus will be killed and "the sheep will be scattered" (14:27). The feeding of the 5000, with its strong eucharistic overtones, is one way that Jesus will continue to be present with the community even after his death. The open table fellowship of the Jesus movement, with food for all, is yet another.
After the feeding, Jesus and the disciples went to Gennesaret, a town just west of Capernaum, also on the Sea of Galilee. Again, the people "recognized"--knew--Jesus. Their response is to comb the countryside for sick people in order to bring them "to any place where they heard he was."
Word about Jesus seems to be spreading through an informal, "grass roots," communications network. Also, Mark uses the present tense in verse 55. The people "were hearing" where "he is." Writing c. AD 70, Mark wants the people to know that Jesus is presently available.
The Jesus movement is expanding: Three places are identified for Jesus' "coming in"--towns, cities, and fields. We are used to Jesus moving through the countryside and towns. The reference to cities here (6:56) is the only time Jesus is mentioned as being in a city in Mark's gospel.
The Jesus movement, swelling with public support, is now able to take its mission into cities. The mention of towns, cities, and farms means that the Jesus movement now has the clout to occupy every social space in Galilee.
They were laying the "weak"--asthenountas--in the "marketplaces." Asthenountas may mean "sick," but, more broadly, means "enfeebled," "weak," or "lacking energy." These "weak ones"--on pallets, incidentally, which were used by the poor--were laid in the most public place in any town or city, the "marketplace."
The "marketplace" is also a major local outpost of the established economic system. The "weak" are brought there, but they are healed by Jesus, not by the economic status quo.
The reference to "touch the hem of his garment" may refer to the blue threads on the corners of the garment--"tzitzit"--that represent the law of Moses. If so, Jesus is shown here as observing a requirement of Torah. (Num 15:37-40)
Reaching for the helm of his garment also recalls the story of the woman with the hemorrhage in 5:27-28 who, likewise, sought to do so and was subsequently healed. Here again, "as many as touched him" were "being saved."
Image: Great crowds followed Jesus as he preached the good news, Elizabeth Wang