Proper 11, Year B, RCL, Track 1
Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
If we are not Jewish, circumcised as a sign of our covenantal relationship with God, then we are Godless people.[i] Paul says we are “strangers to the covenants of promise” and “aliens from the Commonwealth of Israel.” Without Christ, we have “no hope and [are] without God in the world.” But he continues to tell us that this is not our lot in life. For we are not without hope. We have hope, not through the hands of man in circumcision, but through Christ himself.
In Christ, a new humanity is born. Jew and gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. Through Christ’s blood, we have been made one. Through Him and the cross, we have peace and reconciliation. There is no longer a divide and no reason for hostility between us. We are all members of the house of God. Christ is the cornerstone and “in him, the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;” in whom you are built into a dwelling place for God. This is the message that Paul and the other disciples were spreading. And this is a lot to take in.
In the Bible, there are two kinds of people. One is the circumcised, the descendants of Abraham who we often think of as the Jewish people. The second is everyone else, the uncircumcised or those who haven’t been circumcised as part of their faith. For women, the symbol of this division came from either your father or husband being circumcised or not. These are the two groups, Jew and Gentile and the gulf between them was usually pretty deep. But as we read, through Christ there is no longer a gulf. In Christ, we are all the same, belonging to the same family.
I like to think of this as an apple tree. Apples are a strange fruit. You can take any variety of apple, say a Granny Smith, cut it open and you will find five seeds. Then if you properly plant the seeds and wait for them to grow you will hopefully end up with 5 apple trees, but not Granny Smith apple trees. In all likeliness, you will have five apple trees that produce undesirable fruit. Some will be too tart, too mealy, and/or too small. I once heard you have to plant 10,000 apple trees to find one or two that have desirable fruit.
The only way to create a tree that produces Granny Smith apples is to cut off a branch from a Granny Smith apple tree and graft it onto any other kind of apple tree. Now the only kind of fruit that will come from this grafted branch are Granny Smith apples. If this is done well you can take a sapling, cut off its tiny trunk and graft the Granny Smith branch in its place. The only branches this tree will ever produce are Granny Smith and now you have a Granny Smith apple tree. This is something like what Paul says Christ does for us. He takes Gentiles and grafts them onto the family tree of the Jewish people. Because of this new humanity, Paul says, “[Jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” When we lower our guard and enmity for others, we can allow Christ to work in building unity by grafting all people into the same family.
This grafting doesn’t take any work, at least not on our part. Christ does all the work of grafting us into God’s family. We are simply asked, well there is nothing simple about it, but we are asked to believe in him and follow him. And as a part of this family, we are expected to produce fruit.
As our Gospel opens, the Apostles have come back after being sent out two by two. They have lots of stories to tell and are excited about what they have done on Jesus’ behalf. Now that the exhilaration of this journey is over they seem to realize how tired they are. Jesus says they need some rest. So they go across the sea to a deserted place. But we find that tons of people are hurrying around on foot, following them to the other side of the sea. When they get across, there is no rest but a mass of humanity, about 5,000 people, waiting for them. These people are obviously following Jesus but they don’t seem to know exactly why they are following Jesus. Jesus says “they [are] like sheep without a shepherd.” So what does he do; “he [begins] to teach them many things.” Hours later they are hungry and he feeds the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, we will read about this next week. After feeding, eating, and cleaning up the disciples get in the boat again and go to Gennesaret. I wonder if they are still seeking the peace and quiet that Jesus promised them.
We know that they don’t find solitude, but more people. And these people, the people of Gennerserat, seem to have faith in Jesus. They are bringing out the sick on stretchers and laying them by the side of the road. They are hoping Jesus will heal them. Others are following behind Jesus just hoping that they might touch the fringe of his cloak. “For all who touched, were healed.” In this gospel we seem to have two groups of people, some are rushing around but don’t really know why. They seem not to have or know their Shepherd. The others group is running just hoping to touch or be touched by Jesus.
Here in these interactions with Jesus is where I see our struggles with faith. We are all busy people, running around, going to work, taking the family to sporting events, doctor visit, grocery store, visiting friends at the Vineyard (a local wine bar). We attend all of our clubs and meetings along with the other busyness in our lives. These are all good things; many are necessities for life, but even when all of this rushing around makes us tired we are called to do more. We are called to follow Christ, spread the Word, and bear fruit. And we are also called to find respite.
All of this running and rushing makes me reflect on my life. Am I running around unsure of what I’m being called to do; looking for a shepherd, to guide me? Am I running around, chasing after Jesus, just hope that someday I will bump into him and be forever changed? Or may there is a third group, and I could be I’m more like the disciples; still a bit confused about who he is in my life but following him none the less.
I would be lying if I said Christ doesn’t seem elusive, but this is our faith. Our faith is following what we do not understand fully. Knowing that Jesus is with me even if he is elusive and his plan incomprehensible. Knowing that I will be changed and continue to change each time I encounter him in my life. And it is also in the assurance that when I am tired I can take respite so that I can soon be refreshed to continue to serve him in all that I do. Thomas Merton wrote this following prayer which I think summarizes this idea very well.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.[ii]
[i] Ephesians 2:11-12
[ii] Thomas Merton 1915-1968