The Desert Blooms
Newspapers report all manner of news, but the plight of people worldwide begs for pity and sympathy. Our hearts go out for folks killed in senseless bombings and attacks by merciless forces promoting an evil agenda. Jesus had come to overturn evil and bring Gospel grace to the crowds He and His disciples encountered. People then as today were in need of the Good Shepherd to care about them, to care for them, and to provide for their physical, and more importantly, for their spiritual needs, as well.
Jesus had returned to His hometown but had been rejected there (Mark 6:1-6). The people there couldn’t see beyond the man, whom they recognized as Mary’s child, who now had a following of disciples, but nothing more. This does not deter the Lord from reaching out with the Gospel of God’s kingdom, His righteous rule and reign here on earth. The Church would fare no better, then, than today.
Jesus had sent His disciples to minister to the needs of the neighboring towns and villages. These “sent ones” or apostles had just returned from their mission of mercy, teaching of God’s gracious kingdom, having been given authority to cast out demons and heal the sick (Mark 6:7-12). Jesus came to the attention of Herod, who wondered whether He was John the Baptist come alive again (Mark 6:14). John had called for Herod’s repentance for having married his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. Her daughter Salome had danced for Herod at a party he had given and her lascivious dance pleased him, so much so he promised the girl a gift of whatever she asked. She asked her mother Herodias and the mother got revenge for John’s criticisms by requesting John’s head on a platter. Herod, sadly, gave her what she wanted, and when Jesus heard of it, He retired with His disciples to a desolate place (Mark 6:30-32).
The projection of Christ’s ministry was definitely taking a less than successful trajectory. He had been rejected back home. His dear cousin and herald of the Lord’s coming was killed. Evil seemed so prevalent and prevailed over all, especially the people, who crowded around Him, seeking Him for various, often wrong, reasons. His heart went out to them. “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). As sheep, the people were vulnerable to predators. Without a shepherd’s watchful care, these sheep would wander aimlessly, unable to defend themselves, feed or care for themselves. They were helpless to the assaults of the evil one, to sinful human selfishness, and arrogance. The enemy appeared to be winning. The Church struggles today as well.
And being a desolate place and the hour getting late, the disciples wished to dismiss the crowds. But Jesus challenged them to care for the hungry, hurting, lost people. Five loaves of bread and a couple of fish are the only food on hand. The disciples are overwhelmed by the situation. But Christ’s compassion just doesn’t feel sympathy, He is able to act upon it. For Jesus is actually the Lord Himself, present to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, which stated, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom . . . They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold your God . . . He will come and save you’” (Isaiah 35:1a, 2c, 3-4). This Jesus does. His compassion proceeds to take the meager fare of loaves and fishes and multiplies them. He distributes the food to the hungry crowds and all are satisfied. This is no mere snack, but a banquet, truly an oasis in the desert. Following the meal, twelve baskets-full of leftovers are picked up. And the number of people fed were 5,000 men (Mark 6:44), not to mention wives and children. Our compassionate Lord and Good Shepherd does provide for us sheep who are blessed by His presence and provision, each and every day. The desert blooms! Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever!