Summary: Following Jesus is not easy. Sometimes what he expects of us seems too difficult; sometimes it just doesn’t seem to make sense. It is then that we need to obey.
You have heard the term Christ-figure. It is a literary term for a character in a story who is like a savior or sacred figure. Those of you who have read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath might remember Jim Casey, a fallen preacher who helps migrant workers. It is no accident that his initials are J.C. Steinbeck intended for readers to make a connection with Jesus. King Arthur is a Christ-figure. He establishes a righteous kingdom and sends his knights out to battle the wicked, much as Jesus sent out his disciples. It is even said that he has not died but will come again to rescue Britain in her darkest hours. Even Tim Taylor’s neighbor, Wilson, in Home Improvement could have been regarded as a Christ-figure. Each time Tim got in trouble, he could turn to Wilson to give wise teaching that would solve his problem.
The Gospel of Mark, of course, is the story of the actual Christ. But Mark the writer also avails himself of the same literary device. In our passage we will see how Jesus figures Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah and Elisha, all the while serving a satisfying meal.
In verse 30, Mark concludes his story of the disciples’ short-term mission trip. The next verses reveal the consequence of fame that the disciples have now earned through their trip. 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.
Oh, the price of fame! The disciples are recognized in their own right as miracle workers now and are learning what it is like to have attention turned on themselves. We have reversed roles almost in that Jesus is now helping his disciples get away. Even so, the people are too enthusiastic, and they outwit the escape efforts of Jesus and his disciples, meeting them at their landing place.
Note now Jesus’ reaction. 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 many things.
He had compassion on them. I wonder what the disciples had? I would have been thinking, “Could you just give us a break for a little while?” It is the next phrase that explains Jesus’ compassion.
… because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Where did Mark come up with this simile? From Scripture. Mark, as a Jew, would have been thinking of his Scriptures. This is one:
15 Moses said to the LORD, 16 “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd. 18 So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him” (Numbers 27:15-17).
Here is our first character Jesus figures – Joshua. Did you know that the names Joshua and Jesus are variations of the same name, just like Mary, Maria and Marian are variations of the same name? Joshua, by the way, means “salvation.” Mark knows what he is doing. He wants the readers to understand that here is the new Joshua ordained of God to shepherd his people.
He may also have wanted for those with “ears to hear” to think of Ezekiel 34 where God condemns the shepherds of Israel who have not cared for their people. His solution? To shepherd the people himself (I myself with tend my sheep, v 15.) and to provide one shepherd to replace all the others: (I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd, v 23.) Here now is David to shepherd God’s people.
What does Jesus the shepherd do? He teaches them. This is the means by which he feeds his flock. Speaking of feeding, the disciples remind Jesus that suppertime is coming on, and it would be best to bring instruction to a close and send the people out to dinner.
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” Sometimes it is fun to joke around, but the end of a long day ministering among a crowd of people when actually you had wanted to be alone is not the best time for a jest. I imagine the disciples are feeling this way. They respond, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” If Jesus is trying to be funny, it isn’t going over very well. If he is serious, then he isn’t being sensible, which can be expected, seeing as he has put in more work than anyone. Whatever the case, the disciple’s reply surely would provide the corrective needed, so they thought.