During Lent churches sometimes highlight what is called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” in
anticipation of the crucifixion. The featured passage comes from John 10 where Jesus says,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, and so on…”
(vs. 11; cf. John 10:11-18). The Sunday associated with the passages for today is sometimes
half-jokingly referred to as “Bad Shepherd Sunday” because it describes the bad shepherds,
the ones who failed the Jewish people. There are passages throughout the Hebrew Bible
that either refer to the people’s need for a shepherd, leader and/or teacher, or criticism of
the people set apart to be the shepherds for the Nation of Israel. Throughout the Bible
“shepherd” is a symbol for leadership.
In this passage, God is taking the designated shepherds severely to task and explains what
God is going to do about it. Look at it closely because it will be important later.
Ezekiel 34:2b-11 (NIV)
2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.
In the last couple of weeks, we have seen Jesus send the disciples out into the countryside
to teach and heal people. They demonstrated the coming of the Kingdom of God. Then, we
look into the lives of the rich and famous as we saw a lavish birthday party for Herod Antipas
and his officials and nobles. There’s wine. There’s dancing, and it ended with the beheading of
one of the profits of God, John the Baptist. Remember what we heard earlier in the Ezekiel
passage. Herod Antipas as a political leader of Jewish people was supposed to be one of the
shepherds called to take care of the flock. Instead of doing that. Instead of helping the sick or
the injured, he ruled them “harshly and brutally” (Ez 34:4).
Today’s passage directly follows that “party.” The disciples, now called apostles for the first time in
Mark, are returning and reporting what happened on their mission trips. Our passage is broke
n into two pieces. The Feeding of the 5000 occurs in the middle, and that will be the focus next
week. Today, we will be starting at Mark 6:30.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (NIV)
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done
and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they
did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves
to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many
who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got
there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion
on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them
53 When they had crossed over [the Sea of Galilee again], they landed at
Gennesaretand anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people
recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on
mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns
or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them
touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
So much happens in this sixth chapter of Mark that we have been looking at for the last
several weeks. Jesus is rejected by his hometown of Nazareth. He sends the disciples out
on their first missionary journey. We have Herod Antipas’ party. John the Baptist is killed.
Jesus feeds over 5000 people, and he walks on water. Today’s passage can seem mundane
by comparison. In fact these particular passages often are overlooked because they are linked
with the Feeding of the 5000, so they don’t get the attention they deserve.
This passage may pale in comparison with the rest of chapter six, but those things are the reason
why these things happen in this passage. It is the ushering in of the Kingdom of God with Jesus
as the true divine Shepherd. The disciples, now apostles, the ones who are sent, went out as Jesus’
agents/ambassadors/representatives to spread the word about the Kingdom of God and show the
people what that meant. They did this through the things they did for the people and what they
taught. Now, they have returned, reporting all they did. The proof of their success is how they are
mobbed everywhere they go.
Even when Jesus invites them to go to a secluded place, the people follow them. Jesus and the disciples
are going by boat, but the people ran on foot to meet them at their destination. No rest this time.
It was fascinating to me as I was studying today’s lesson of how many writers focused on one verse of
today’s passage. They highlighted the verse where Jesus advises the disciples to rest. Their interpretation
was either the importance of rest for people in ministry to avoid burn out (for lay or clergy), or they
advised that there is so much to do that no one has a right to seek rest. There are plenty of places in
Scripture where we are instructed to rest periodically, starting with the Ten Commandments. Jesus
took time away from the crowds to rest and pray. It is important to avoid burn out and sickness. I will
even be taking some time off this week, however, that is not what this passage is about. This is not
commentary about whether or not people in ministry or disciples ever get to have rest. These verses
highlight how people who need a shepherd react when they get one.
The people who are literally chasing Jesus all around the Sea of Galilee are desperate. These are
people who need healing, who need to learn, who need spiritual salve. They need compassion.
Compassion is not pity. Jesus does not merely feel sorry for these people. To have compassion for
someone you have to suffer with them. I have a very difficult time when I see a picture or video of
a suffering child or an abused animal. (Let alone encounter any of this in my daily life.) I see it,
and I have physical pain. I cannot focus too closely on it, or the pain will prevent me from being
able to help or even function. This prevents me from doing anything constructive. That becomes
Jesus has compassion for the people chasing him down, and he addresses their needs. He
sees their aimless wandering. Remember that in these passages the sheep are the people and
the shepherds are the ones responsible for the people. Jesus sees that these sheep are without
a shepherd. What is the first thing that he does? He teaches them.
At that time the situation in Palestine, the area of Galilee and Judea, was exactly as God
described today in our passage from Ezekiel. The ones who were responsible for the flock of
Israel had abandoned them and looked after their own needs.
God says, “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not the
shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourself with the wool and slaughter
the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or
healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for
the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was
no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” (Ez 32:2c-5)
This means that the people of the House of Israel were weak and unprotected. They were
vulnerable to be conquered by “wild animals,” or by other nations, and they were such as by:
the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans during Jesus’ time.
While the crowds were chasing after Jesus, Herod Antipas was throwing his lavish party. He was
at least nominally Jewish. He was not taking care of the people under his authority. He was securing
his place with his nobles and officials, not to mention Rome, who could take his power away with a
snap of their fingers (and did eventually).
What the Bible describes as the scribes and the Pharisees or the teachers of the law have a role to play
here too. They were supposed to be teaching people how to live under God’s law, but they had effectively
written the common people off as permanently lost and abandoned them. They called the people the
rabble, the ignorant multitude, not worth the time to try to teach them. Moreover, the rules that they
created in an effort to ensure that people didn’t break God’s Law, made daily living much harder for
the common people. It was basically impossible to follow.
So, it had been some time since the ones responsible for caring for and teaching the people
had lived up to their responsibility.
Jesus sees these desperate people and, “he had compassion on them, because they were like
sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34)
As God said in Ezekiel, “I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.
I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.
I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. For this is what
the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” (Ez 32:10-11)
The first thing the Good Shepherd does is teach the people. It is interesting that so often that the
church can get so focused on addressing the physical needs of people who need help that we
neglect their spiritual needs. When we do that, we become just another charity. We are not
functioning as the church of God. On the other hand, it can go to the other extreme where
churches only address the spiritual side. People need both. To be sure, Jesus addresses the
physical needs too, but not only their physical needs. The food that the people chasing Jesus
are hungry for first is the word of God. He demonstrates that he is God’s Good Shepherd, the
divine shepherd, the Son of God ushering in God’s kingdom.
We see this to an even greater extent at the end of the passage where people throughout the
region of Gennesaret are mobbing Jesus again. People are running around the region bringing
the sick to the marketplace to be healed by Jesus. The area was on the western shore of the Sea
of Galilee between Capernaum and Magdala. It was known for its hot mineral springs and a place
where the sick and injured would go. Again people desperate for relief. Like the bleeding woman
we heard about a few weeks ago, people wanted to touch the edge of his cloak to be healed, but
they no longer did it in secret. They begged Jesus to let them do this.
The fact that they brought the sick to the marketplace is significant. The marketplace was
not merely where some fishermen would set up tables to sell their catch for the day. It was
a gathering place for all of the public business for the town. There would be legal hearings,
elections, and debates. Of course there would also be merchants selling their wares. The
marketplace was the political and economic center of the town.
(Elizabeth Webb, WorkingPreacher.com, “Commentary on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56”,
accessed on 07/16/2018)
This is the place of the rich and powerful. However, Jesus meets the sick and the most
vulnerable there. He restores them, not only their physical heath, but their place in the
community. It demonstrates their value to the on-lookers. This is the Kingdom Economy
where the last will be first (Mark 10:31), and it is breaking into this age.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd gathering and taking care of the sheep. He also spends
time speaking against the Bad Shepherds. In the next passage, Mark 7, Jesus will pull
the Pharisees up sharp for how they are watching out for themselves rather than
honoring God or helping the sheep. Jesus notes that they fail in fulfilling the law of
honoring mother and father by substituting a tradition that says that they can dedicate
the money that they would have used to support their parents in their old age to the
Temple or for religious use. You have to understand that there was no Social Security,
Medicare, or 401K retirement plans at that time. Children were expected to take care
of their parents as they got older. By following the Pharisees’ tradition, Jesus is saying
that they are replacing or holding higher their tradition than God’s Law. Jesus highlights
this kind of problem throughout the Gospels. Jesus as the Good Shepherd is demonstrating
how bad the old shepherds had been. He is showing how he as God is searching for his sheep
and looking after them.
And we are the inheritors of that legacy. We are called to be the shepherds now. At the end
of the Gospel of John when Jesus has been resurrected, he is reinstating Peter. He tells Peter
to “take care of my sheep,” “feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17) As Jesus is preparing to ascend
to heaven. He is ordaining new shepherds, the disciples, the ones that will become the church.
In Matthew 28 Jesus gives the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them
to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)
We are the shepherds. (We can also be the sheep.) We have to be mindful that we do not become
the kind of shepherds that God criticizes in Ezekiel, only looking after our own well being, letting
the sheep wander off and fall prey to any of a number of things. We do a pretty good job of looking
after physical needs in this church. There’s always room for improvement. There are always
that have to be tweaked, adjusted, and re-evaluated, but we have to remember our why. Why do we
do it? It’s not only because we are trying to be nice or want to help people. In fact those should not
even be our primary reasons. Our primary reason is to share and demonstrate God’s love for people,
especially people in need and on the margins.
However, we cannot forget the spiritual side. When Jesus is telling Peter to “feed my sheep,”
he’s not telling Peter to organize a soup kitchen. He is telling Peter to feed the people with the
Bread of Life, to teach them about God and the love that God has for them. When it says that
Jesus had compassion for the people who were chasing him around Galilee, his response was
to teach them. (cf. Mark 6:34)
What can you do to share the love of God, to share the good news, and for people to know that it
is for God that you are doing it? One of the ways is a way that you hear about all the time. You can
learn more about God yourself, so then you’ll have more information to share. You don’t keep your
faith a secret. That has its advantages and disadvantages. If people know that you follow Jesus, they
will watch you. There’s the old saying that you may be the only Bible that some people read. That’s
good when you are doing things that glorify God. It’s not so good if you are witnessed cutting people
off on the highway or exhibiting road rage or something. Of course, I know that no one here would
ever do anything like that or gossiping or … any one of a hundred things. If people know you are a
Christian, they will be watching you. Do your best to send a good message. We are but flawed humans.
We make mistakes, but making the effort is important. It is important not only in feeding the sheep
but even perhaps in increasing the flock.
Next Saturday, we are going to be having a Root Beer Float stand the day of the Chief Joseph Days
parade, right here on Main Street. You may not think that it would be a spiritual way of feeding the
sheep, but it is. It is demonstrating to our community that we love our community and want to be a
part of it. You can help in several ways. You can help with the prep on Friday, the set up or take down
of the stand on Saturday, or you can come and hang out a little bit to help bring attention to our stand
and create a fun atmosphere.
That’s the Good News. God wants us to have life and have it abundantly. Sometimes that is by sharing
a Root Beer Float. Sometimes that is providing help to someone in desperate need. Sometimes that is
sharing the news that God loves them. I mean really, how can we keep that all to ourselves?