Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Ephesians 2.13-18; Mark 6.30-14
“As he went ashore Jesus saw a great crowd. He had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He began to teach them many things.” – Mark 6.34
The lectionary organizes our Sunday hearing of the gospels in short snippets. In this Sunday’s snippet the twelve return from a mission that Jesus sent them out to do in last Sunday’s snippet (Mark 6.7-13). Jesus’ growing popularity prevents them from taking time to eat or rest, let alone debrief.
This gospel is part of a a literary sandwich, story within a story. Last Sunday the lectionary served us the first slice of story — Jesus sending out the twelve in pairs (6.7-12). This Sunday we hear the second slice of story — the return of the twelve (6.30-34). The key to interpreting the whole lies in the omitted verses, the account of John the Baptist’s senseless and gruesome beheading. This account is the meat in the middle of the sandwich that interprets the whole.
The missing 17 verses tell us that Jesus’ ministry has stirred up people in Galilee. They think Elijah or another prophet has returned. King Herod worries that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead.
In Mark’s plot, telling the story of John’s beheading does more than supply time for the twelve to be away on mission. More importantly, John’s senseless death at the whimsy of a drunken king foreshadows the cost of prophetic ministry. What happens to John the Baptist may happen to Jesus and the disciples who follow him.
By A.D. 70 when Mark writes, Jesus’ apostles have spread the good news of his death and resurrection around the Mediterranean Sea. They have grown old or been martyred. Who will continue the work Jesus began? Who will follow the disciples that have given their lives to spreading his message?
What insights does the literary sandwich suggest for you? What is a way you continue Jesus’ mission in your family life?