J ESUS SEES spiritual need. When Jesus saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
In the Bible, shepherds are often symbols of godly leadership. Kings are referred to as shepherds of the people. In fact, the first King of Israel was David, a shepherd before becoming king. God is also characterized as a shepherd. Perhaps you know the beginning of Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd. To say God is like a shepherd is to say that I, you, we, are like sheep.
Jesus builds on the idea of shepherd. In his own words, Jesus proclaims:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep, and they know me….”
Jesus is the good shepherd to his followers just as shepherds are of their livestock. Shepherds tend the flock day and night. Shepherds gather the sheep at night for their protection. Shepherds stay and defend sheep when they are in danger. Shepherds have a genuine, loving concern.
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IT DOESN’T TAKE much imagination to see the desperation of life in this reading. People are like sheep without a shepherd; like a mob of sheep milling around in panic, with wild beasts tearing lives apart. Life is full of anxiety. Even when beasts are not visible, people live on edge, ready to bolt, never safe, always at risk. Nothing has changed. We are fragile and afraid. We are like sheep without a shepherd. Society is on edge; the mob explodes in panic at even a hint of wild dog or a toilet paper shortage.
Jesus sees them and addresses their spiritual needs. In Jesus’s world view, those who have power, whether they are media, politicians, or merchants, are there to be shepherds. When they do not bind up the injured, bring back the strays and seek out the lost, they are condemned.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel wrote that God condemned the leaders because they did not care for the sheep. The sheep are scattered, without leadership, without guidance, without a voice to hear and know and recognize as the voice of safety. The sheep are left on their own without protection. Uncertain if the enemy is real or a hoax. So, we are told, God becomes the shepherd. God cares for the sheep. Gathers the sheep. Leads the sheep to fresh water and green grass.
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THIS READING from Mark is the opening to the feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. Hunger of the body is real. Jesus knows this. It is clear that Jesus’s compassion touches the hunger of the body as well as the soul.
But, if we miss Jesus feeding the soul — he “taught them many things” — we shortchange ourselves and the hungry crowd in which we live. There are multitudes who hunger in their souls for meaning and peace. They have questions that are expressions of the soul’s hunger. “Why am I here?” or “What should I do with my life?” “Does anyone love me?” “If I died, would anyone notice, or care?”
It is this hunger that leads Jesus to teach them before he gives them food for their bodily hunger.
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WHO IS THIS JESUS that feeds body and soul? Jesus is God in human flesh; Jesus is the divine One dwelling in this world of sinful people. Jesus knows the hungers of human life because he lived a human life. Jesus has the power to satisfy the hunger of body and soul because Jesus is God.
Jesus sees your spiritual needs. In these trying, fearful, and isolating times. Jesus comes to us. He looks on us with compassion and teaches us. Listen to his voice. Use your time, perhaps more time than you’ve had in ages, to allow the good shepherd to lead you to fresh water, green pastures and to teach you many things.
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TRACY AKINS, one of our church leaders, wrote Friday morning that her teenage son had gone hunting, so she had to get up at 4:45 a.m. “If you’re anything like me, there is no going back to sleep until he is home.”
She was a shepherd for her son. Loving, caring, awaiting his return. Her suggestion: “Find a good book and a quiet place to read.” She includes a photo. In the photo is a keyboard, a cup of coffee and a book she is reading, Anxious About Nothing.
While Tracy was shepherding her son, our Lord was shepherding her. He saw her need, had compassion, and began to teach her many things through Max Lucado’s book.
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TODAY I PROCLAIM to you Jesus, the Christ, meets the hunger of body and soul. Does your life proclaim that Jesus?
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(Prayer) Grant, Almighty God, that the words we have heard this day with our outward ears may through your grace be so grafted inwardly in our hearts that the hunger of our bodies and souls may be fed to our great good and the praise of the name of Jesus. Amen.