How often do we meet God in our own workplace? In the Bible reading assigned to this week we have John’s account of Jesus walking on the water to come and meet John and his colleagues in their fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. What actually happened that night? After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus told his disciples to set sail without him while he went into the hills to pray. However, a storm blew up and, doubtless, they were concerned for their safety. It was then that they saw someone walking on the water and they were terrified until they discovered it was Jesus. As with most of John’s Gospel, there are two layers to his writing. There is the historical layer and the spiritual layer. Jesus must have been looking down from the hills to see his friends in trouble. Jesus was watching over his disciples. Next, He immediately responded and came to meet them to tell them not to be afraid and to bring them to a safe haven on the seashore. In spiritual terms, we can see the significance of these events in our own personal lives as God watches over us comes to us and commands us not to be afraid. However, there is also the more ‘earthy’ reality that this was a fisherman’s experience about a boat and a stormy sea where God came to him in a familiar setting. The old fisherman turned evangelist found the full wealth of Christ in his own workplace.
The Bible reading for this week is the account in Mark’s Gospel of the feeding of the five thousand. This miracle had a profound impact on the disciples as it is the only one in which there is mention in all four Gospels. The Gospel records that the people sat on the ‘green grass’. Peter, probably narrating to Mark, no doubt is seeing all the events in his mind’s eye as someone who was there at the time. Twelve baskets of leftovers were collected at the end. This may well be due to the fact that each of the disciples, like all good Jews, had their own baskets with them to do this. However, despite the fascinating authenticity of all these historical accounts, this story also has important spiritual significance. Fundamentally, Jesus asks his followers to, ‘Bring me what you’ve got – however small you perceive it to be’. Once we do this, Jesus has the marvellous power to transform our meagre offerings into something special. God has all the resources of the universe at his disposal. However, what he asks for is our offering. If we give all that we have to Him, then something beautiful can happen.
I wonder if we ever make rash promises or rash oaths. Certainly, Jesus warned against this by saying do not swear by anything but, rather, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. In the book of Judges, Jephthah made a rash promise with fatal consequences for his daughter. In the book of 1 Samuel, something similar almost happened with Saul’s son Jonathan. In the Gospel passage assigned to this week we have a similar story. King Herod respected John the Baptist and yet promised the daughter of Herodias anything she wanted after her dancing performance. After consulting with her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Although greatly distressed, King Herod had backed himself into a corner in front of his court and didn’t have the courage to spare the life of John. We should all be careful in what we promise others. Once again we should heed the words of our Lord: ‘Do not swear an oath at all!
The Gospel reading for this week is Mark’s account of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples with instructions for mission. Can we draw any parallels between then and now? Is there anything we can learn from Jesus’ words then, about how we carry out mission today? I think we can and we should. Jesus fully expected his disciples to meet apathy and even active opposition. He says: “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave.” Here Jesus seems to be saying that you should have nothing more to do with them. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says there will be judgement on that town worse than that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah! What are the lessons for us? Firstly, Jesus places no restriction as to where the disciples should go – at least not in Mark’s account. The Gospel is to be preached everywhere and to everyone. Secondly however, if people reject it, don’t waste time on them but simply move on to someone else who will not reject it. For us, in 2018, the principle still holds. We preach the Gospel by our lives, words and example wherever we go. However, if people will not accept it, we should not ‘beat ourselves up’ and feel inadequate. We should simply move on to sharing the Gospel with someone else. It is a simple but powerful teaching. Let’s practise it this week.
The Bible reading for this week is the account of Jesus stopping to heal a woman with haemorrhaging whilst he was on his way to attend to Jairus’ daughter. A twelve year old is dying and yet Jesus stops to talk to a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. Why? Once again, we are struck by the fact that Jesus was not in a hurry. Like the account of Lazarus, Jesus does not rush around; even to get to a dying person. He is Lord of time and considers there to be something much more important to address than meeting deadlines. Jesus wanted to meet, engage with and heal broken relationships. The woman had been labelled as an ‘outcast’ for the past 12 years because of her medical condition. No doubt, she was referred to by a range of derogatory terms by the people who saw her. Jesus changes all of that. Jesus gives her a new name: ‘daughter’. For Jesus, the overriding concern was to restore people, all people, to full dignity in God. Similarly, he wants to do the same with us. He wants to restore all of us by giving us the title of ‘children of God’. To Him, this was much more important than rushing around meeting deadlines.