Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Mark 6:30-46 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Feeding the Five Thousand
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He 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. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As 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. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii[a] worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
A helpful way to approach scripture is to ask three questions:
- What does it say about the nature of God?
What this passage says about God is a word that we encounter here: compassion. Jesus who revealed the nature of God perfectly looked at the crowds of people and he felt compassion for them and Jesus’ response reveals the nature of God. When Jesus saw the crowd, “He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd….”
- What does it say about humanity? It says that we are like “sheep without a shepherd.” When Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion on them for they were like “sheep without a shepherd.”
When you look across the human landscape with the eyes of Jesus, you see the accomplishments and potential and strengths of humanity. You see that we are deeply loved by God. At the same time, you also see that we can be like sheep without a shepherd. You can see the hurts of humanity. You see the heartaches of loving and losing. You see the fears and the insecurities about the future, about aging, about dying and all those things that make us fearful. You see the failure to get our act together. You see often do those things that are destructive to us and we fail to do the things that we ought to do. You see the difficulty we have in connecting our lives with one another and building bridges of peace. You see that sense of aloneness that sometimes goes with being human. Looking at humanity through the eyes of Jesus shows us who we are: We are like sheep without a shepherd and sheep need shepherds.
- What does this say about the relationship between God and humanity?
God sees us as “sheep without a shepherd,” but God doesn’t leave us without a shepherd. It saddens the heart of God to see us flounder around, to see us wander away, to see us without care, to see us without a sense of hope and purpose. So God entered our human existence and experience in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said in John 10:14. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” That’s the Good News of our faith. The relationship between God and between humanity is a relationship of shepherd and sheep.
Scripture is well acquainted with sheep and shepherding, using that image time and again from the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd” to Ezekiel who speaks of the Lord as “shepherd of the people” to Micah who envisions the coming Messiah to be a shepherd to Jesus who says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
In most of those images we envision a rather pastoral scene of the shepherd leading the way and all the sheep obediently following, all orderly and neat and in control.
But the reality of shepherding is not always so easy. Sometimes the sheep don’t want to go anywhere. They are contentedly munching grass, minding their own business. When the shepherd wants to move them, the shepherd has to stomp his feet sometimes, prod them a little bit to get them going. In fact, one of the purposes of the sling that shepherds would carry—like David’s sling—was not just to wound or kill a wolf or some other predator but the purpose of the sling was to guide and direct the sheep and sometimes to get them moving. A little pelt on the rear end for a sheep that strayed off in the wrong direction or the staff that reaches down and lifts up a sheep.
The work of a shepherd is not just walking around and the sheep are following, but the shepherd is right there in the midst of the sheep constantly caring and watching and going to get a sheep that’s strayed away or standing in the midst of the sheep feeding the sheep. That’s a beautiful image we find in the prophet Micah. In Micah 5 it says, “And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD…” And that image is not the image of a shepherd out front with the sheep somewhere back here following, but it is the image of the shepherd right there in the messy, middle of the flock feeding sheep.
And if you’ve ever fed livestock you know that they crowd around. They don’t stand in an orderly line to be fed. But they crowd around and they push and that image of the shepherd right there in the middle of the sheep is the image of getting jostled around and being right there in the middle of the mess and getting squashed a little bit and getting trampled on sometimes by sharp little hooves, fingers maybe getting accidentally nibbled by over-enthusiastic eaters.
That is the image of the Good Shepherd there right in the middle of the flock, right in the midst of where we live, right in the place where our lives take place, a place that’s sometimes very messy and disorderly and sometimes in the midst of sheep who are not necessarily willing to follow.
And so that tells us about the nature of the relationship between God and humanity. God is right there in the midst of us, a shepherd in the middle of the flock.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster