This is truly an odd little Gospel we have today. If you’ll take a look at the verse numbers on your insert, you can see why. What’s odd about it? Well, it’s two snippets, isn’t it? It’s all Mark chapter 6, but we get verses 30-34, and then 53-56. Two scenes. In the previous chapters, Jesus has been proclaiming the Kingdom and healing and casting out demons, and now, as we heard 2 Sundays ago, he has sent his apprentices out to try their hands at it as well. So the text shows us two scenes of what happened when they returned.
In today's first snippet, the apprentices share their field work experience. How does Jesus respond? It’s there in the second line: he suggests that they all get away to a private place to rest and debrief. But the crowds figure out where their boat is going and run, it says, to intercept it. The crowds they were trying to avoid are there waiting on the shore when the boat arrives.
Our second snippet starts right after the words “teach them many things.” In it, they sail to Genessaret, where Jesus is recognized at once. Again, it says people rushed to find him, bringing all their sick relatives, deploying them at every street corner Jesus seems likely to pass, pushing forward, desperate for a healing. “Wherever he went,” the text tells us near the bottom there, people begged “even to touch the fringe of his cloak.”
These two snippets put together offer us a picture of reactions to Jesus, different reasons people come to him and different things he gives in response when we do come. I want us to look at three of these, and we’re going to do it by working through the reading backwards. Three reasons people come to Jesus; three things Jesus offers when we do come to him.
Last week I emailed the Episcopal church where I became a Christian, and asked if they had a picture of their window of the prophet Amos. It was the first window on the lectern side, opposite the font where I was eventually baptized, and the thing that stood out about it was the plumb line. I remember – and it can only have been on this very Sunday in our church year – one of the priests using the Amos window and its depiction of the plumb line we just heard about as an example in his sermon.
Well, they were kind enough to send me a picture, and it matches my memories pretty well. Amos is in the middle, a couple of shook-up looking listeners are to the right and left, and the plumb line God is setting up runs, like a silver shaft of light, right down the center panel of the window, with what looks like a sharp blade at the end. It is absolutely straight, with utter clarity, and it cuts through the image like a knife.
In today’s first reading, Amos passes on God’s words about the plumb line to his people. (They are divided at this point into the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah, and Amos is speaking to the North.) So what does God have for us in this text today? As always, I invite you to follow along in the text as we try and listen to him together. So in verse 7, God shows Amos a wall that is perfectly aligned, perfectly plumb, and God is standing next to it, holding the plumb line that makes it so.
If Jesus had listened to the naysayers, there would have been no miracle. Jesus was on his way to Jairus’ house, where Jairus’ daughter was seriously ill. He was on his way to heal her. But as Jesus pauses to help another person with another healing, the bad news comes. A group arrives, and they say to Jairus, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any longer?"
Now, probably, after the girl died, the family had sent that group ahead to catch Jesus before he got there. In the most obvious and literal sense, they were better qualified than anyone in the story at that point to comment on the girl's real condition. Yet Jesus doesn't even give them an answer. The Gospel says he ignores them. He simply comments to Jairus: "do not fear, only believe." He doesn't rethink his plan; he just keeps moving toward the house.
Well, he does rethink one thing. He now allows no one else to follow him except Peter and John and James. Jesus takes only his three most trusted and faithful disciples, because (as much as he can count on anybody) he can count on them to join him in ignoring the naysayers. He can count on them to take the risk of seeing things the way he sees them instead, as Dwight Zscheile calls it, of “being able to imagine God active and involved.”