‘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.’ Mark 6.34
There are times when a crowd has a common purpose and sense of direction. There is a rallying around a cause frequently when they believe a protest must be made. The last week has seen two such demonstrations even during lockdown. Across the world in Myanmar large crowds are risking their lives in the desire to claim democracy for their country even though the only democracy they have known has been one only partially seceded by the military. When times are felt to be more stable crowds dissipate and there is a tendency for people to go in a multitude of directions.
When Jesus stepped off the boat a huge crowd was waiting for him having raced ahead to beat the boat to shore. Jesus had wanted to give his disciples a rest after their missionary adventures and feedback to Jesus. People had not let them settle even to a meal. However, when Jesus saw the crowd he was filled with compassion. The phrase, like sheep without a shepherd Mark 6.34 refers back to a prophecy in Ezekiel 34 where God promises a shepherd for his sheep, the people of Israel. ‘I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.’ Ezekiel 34.23-24
The people of Israel had been let down by their spiritual leaders in the times of Ezekiel and Jesus. Without proper teaching they went their own ways and were exploited by their leaders. Ezekiel condemns them in the harshest terms and the same judgements applied to the religious leaders in 1st century A.D. ‘Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.’ Ezekiel 34’2-6
Jesus looked at the crowd who had been let down by self-serving leaders who had not taught the truth of God’s law and the prophets. He then demonstrated that he was the shepherd promised by God. He spent the day teaching them and at the end of the day miraculously met their physical needs by feeding the whole crowd with just a few loaves and fish with an abundance left over. Mark 6.30-44, 8.1-10 He was God’s true shepherd of his people. The resonance with God miraculously meeting the needs of Israel in the wilderness through the gift of manna, water from the rock and the gift of the law was clear for all to see.
In any crowd today, there will be sheep without a shepherd. People who have never heard or understood the good news of Jesus. Some may have a broadly Christian history but have never heard the gospel message clearly explained.
Has the church today let the people down in the same way as the religious leaders who opposed Jesus?
Are you a person who has never before had the gospel explained to you?
The Lord’s my Shepherd I’ll not want – Stuart Townend