I find it interesting that we get a story about Jesus’ compassion and healing in Mark right after John the Baptist is beheaded. It’s almost as if the gospel writer was illustrating the worst of human kind in comparison to the very best we can aspire to be.
According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus is surrounded by people after trying to find a place to rest and relax, and instead of pushing them away, he looks with compassion on them. Sometimes when we hear the word “compassion” we think “pity”. To pity someone means to feel sorry for them, but also to be removed from the situation. To pity someone doesn’t require engagement. However, to have compassion means to be engage with someone in unconditional solidarity. It means being moved and affected by their situation. Compassion is the essence of the ministry of Jesus. And it is in this space of compassion that Jesus teaches and heals the crowd.
The part that we don’t get in this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56) is that this compassion leads Jesus to not only teach and heal those who had gathered, but also feed them. The gospel gives us an outline of our Christian life and practice…teaching through the lessons found in Scripture, healing through prayer, feeding in the Eucharist.
This Sunday, I’d like to focus on the healing aspect found not only in the gospel, but also in the lesson from Ephesians (2:11-22). In this letter, Paul is writing to the church to ask them to remember that Jesus is our peace. In other words, it is in Jesus that we are healed and are at peace. Paul tells the early church that we are no longer strangers, but part of God’s household.
Most of the time we talk about the practices of healing and reconciliation during Lent. But these two lessons give us an opportunity to examine these practices during the rest of the year, and ultimately the rest of our Christian lives. The kind of peace that Paul is teaching the church about isn’t simply a letting go of hostility towards one another, but a peace that is radical and shocking. It’s a peace that calls us who were once estranged, broken and hurt to come together in love that reflects the love of God. When we accept Jesus as our peace, we accept the freely given gift of love, healing and reconciliation. And with the acceptance of that gift, we are then enabled to engage the world with boldness.
What does this kind of radical peace look like? Maybe it’s the ending of apartheid in South Africa. Or the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Or the tearing down of barriers between Israel and Palestine. Radical peace can be found in the coming together of Jews, Christians and Muslims to rebuild neighborhoods. Radical peace can be found in the ordination of all people, including the LGBT community. That’s radical peace. But radical peace can also be found in the handshakes and hugs of brothers who have been estranged because of family disputes. Radical peace is the breaking down of walls—both the visible and the invisible—and then building up the Kingdom of God.
I think this is the kind of healing that Jesus may have been up to when he got out of the boat to offering teaching and healing (and food) to those who had gathered around him. Perhaps the healing wasn’t just the physical healing of the lame and the sick, but also the spiritual and emotional healing of those who had been marginalized and kept separate by barriers and walls. Instead of feeling pity and moving on to a quiet place to rest and relax, Jesus is moved with compassion to be with and among the people. Instead of retreating to grieve the loss of John the Baptist, he finds radical peace by being peace and healing to others. And in that teaching, healing and feeding, Jesus compels those who had gathered to reach out in radical peace to each other and offer healing to one another.
When I hear these kinds of gospel stories, I am reminded of what the church was originally meant to be. It wasn’t about a building so much as it was about the people. The word “church” comes from the Greek word “ekklesia”—the gathered community. On the lake shore, Jesus was with and among the ekklesia, teaching, healing and feeding. He was there to offer radical peace. He was there to break down walls. He was there to help bring about reconciliation.
I recently read an article about this particular story from Mark, and the writer said, “If the church today is unrecognizable as a place of healing, then we need to reflect on what our mission and purpose in the world are…” That was a good challenge to offer! It made me ask myself, are we, in our current place and time, here to offer radical peace and healing in the tradition of Jesus, or are we unrecognizable in our community? I think St. Mark’s does have a lot to offer in terms of healing and peace. We are healing one another in our relationships, we offer a safe space for support groups, we provide clothing to children, and meals to the hungry. But our challenge is to remember, as Paul was reminding the early church in his letter to the Ephesians, that “we” are not “fixing” or “saving” “those people”, but rather we are called to reconciliation, radical peace and healing because we too are the recipients of those free gifts. We are no longer strangers, but part of God’s household.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.