Rather than continuing with Mark’s version of the feeding of the five thousand we turn instead to John’s account. John reveals the full significance of the event and shows us that the miracle is not only a work of power but a sign pointing to realities of another order, a sign that address our whole being, our whole identity, and every aspect of our personhood. He went across the sea of Galilee. He climbed a mountain and sat with his disciples on the green grass. A crowd spontaneously gathered with him on the mountain across the sea. All aspects of a mysterious sign unfolding in the shadow of the Passover feast. The request to Philip is addressed to all of us today. Unleavened barley loaves used for the offering are multiplied. Twelve baskets of fragments are collected. There is more than Moses and manna here, more than Elisha. Can you hear the soft echoes of Eucharist resounding down the centuries? Can you sense Jesus drawing us all into unity? Will you withdraw with Jesus to the mountain when they seek to make him king? Will you sit with him and the Father on the green grass of the Spirit?
Mark’s gospel is full of paradox and full of many kinds of miracles. Our short reading today invites us to meditate on the introduction to one of them (the feeding of five thousand). Jesus had invited his disciples, whom he had sent out two by two, to come apart with him by boat to a remote place so that they could rest awhile. But it was not to be! The crowds heard what was happening and going to the place on foot got there first. Seeing them Jesus felt compassion for the crowd and began to share spiritually with them. Notice how Jesus puts other people’s needs first. Notice how the links he creates between prayerfulness and loving-kindness. Notice how he links compassion and deep spiritual sharing. Notice the link to the prophesied Good Shepherd who would ensure that the people would no longer be victims of famine… or bear the scorn of the nations (read Ezekiel 34). Are we open to learning these lessons? Are we ready to put other people first or are rooted in selfish ways?
The longer form of the gospel recounts two miracle stories, one concerning a little girl who is terminally ill and the other a woman suffering from a long illness. The short form focuses on the healing of the little girl, the daughter of a synagogue official named Jairus. Notice the importance of faith in both stories. Jairus opens the way for God to act in his daughter’s life and the woman opens the way for power to go out of Jesus and liberate her from a debilitating condition. Notice how Jesus praises her courage in reaching out to touch what she needed. How do we care for those who are ill? How open are we to the gift of life? How generous are we? In both of these stories Jesus gives witness to a God of life. He also shows us the true generosity of compassion and mercy: Jesus allows himself to be touched and interrupted. Do we?
When Jesus returned to his home place of Nazareth and preached in the synagogue the people, all of whom knew him, were offended by his words and actions. Instead of believing him they mocked and rejected him. ‘Who does he think he is’ they thought, scoffing at him. But Jesus is not surprised at their lack of faith. A prophet is not without honour except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house. Their lack of faith closes their hearts to what he can do and the gift of new life he brings. Even his greatest deeds bring rejection and the cross. So, after curing a few sick people, he leaves and goes elsewhere. Many seem to be taking offense at Jesus today. Many are turning away from him because of the actions of some leaders in the Church or criticism from others and shapers of popular opinion. Where do we stand? Are we ready to follow Jesus through thick and thin? If he was rejected why should we be surprised that those who seek to follow him today also face rejection?