“Jesus 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.” (Mark 6:31)
The prophet Jeremiah may have witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in the early sixth century B.C.E. Likely his words were preserved, edited and expanded upon during the exile as a testament to the pain sustained by the people of Judah, an exploration of the reasons behind the tragedy and an offering of hope for a future restoration of the people to their beloved land. For Jews, this “righteous Branch” probably represented a renewed Davidic monarchy that would once more bring peace, stability and productivity to their country – a country that was in a state of political and economic ruins.
Christians can expand the meaning of the “Branch” to include the coming messianic kingship of Christ, but ought to do so in a spirit of respect and gratitude for the largesse of Hebrew sacred texts that have blessed our understanding of what it means to be Christian. An interpretation that expands upon the original intended meaning of the text is not a strictly Christian endeavor; Jewish sects, such as the Essenes and the Qumran community, seem to have been doing much the same thing around the time of Jesus’ life. Still, caution and appreciation are called for in order that Christians might avoid anti-Jewish interpretations of scripture.
What is it about this psalm that makes us use it time and again at funerals? The Book of Common Prayer offers nine other suggested psalms (pp. 494-495). Certainly tradition plays a role: this is the psalm we might remember from our childhood, or from a favorite movie, so it registers deep within us when heard anew. What emotions does this psalm evoke for you? The words are powerfully comforting, reassuring us that even in the plain face of danger our maker watches over us and protects us.
Focus for a moment on verse 5. At first glance, this image of the table appears disconnected from the previous pastoral and journey motifs. But here is where this psalm can speak to us more clearly in our lives today.
Who troubles us? Why would God invite us into their presence? And what are we to do about this perplexing situation?
We know we are safe – indeed blessed beyond measure. What then is our response to such gifts, particularly given our proximity to the disturbing crew sitting merely on the other side of the table?
A prayer for mission in the Book of Common Prayer builds upon this text (p. 100): “O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near.” How thin is the line between the recognition of our oneness in Christ, and our proclamation of this good news!
Enter into the richness of the text’s imagery: broken dividing walls, strangers into citizens, one body, the household of God, foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ as cornerstone, God’s temple and dwelling place.
What image resonates most with you?
Do you imagine the church in bodily or structural terms? It is easy to get caught up in the physical buildings of our local parishes; reminding ourselves often that the church finds its life in Christ, and its contours in the breathing, pulsing, working and playing bodies of its members. Together we, the people of God, comprise a mystery beyond our comprehension. Thanks be to God!
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
It’s difficult to imagine just how exhausted Jesus must have felt: he hadn’t even time to eat! Jesus’ life had become doggedly public, yet still he found within himself the compassion to teach and heal the lost and the lame.
Would you chase Jesus around the Sea of Galilee?
While the Reformation ushered in importantly fresh perspectives on Christian life and spirituality, perhaps movement leaders’ belief in the straightforward intelligibility of the Bible has led today to the assumption that “getting to know Jesus” isn’t that hard if you try. Just read the Gospels! Well, these inspired accounts tell of crowds traveling dozens of miles on foot to reach a teacher and healer whose true identity could hardly have been known before the resurrection, the ascension or Pentecost. Now we today, gifted by two millennia of theological reflection on the significance of Jesus, can find it easier to take for granted the profundity and power of these insights gained. Try chasing Jesus around a lake once in a while, and be patient: coming to know Christ entails the spiritual trek of a lifetime.