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Mark 6:34 1
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.

Background

Verse 34 can be logically combined with verses 30, 31 and 32. These are are the introduction to the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” account in Mark 6:35-44, followed by when Jesus walked on the water in Mark 6:45-52. In most Gospel text, our stories are fast-paced. Things happen “immediately,” in complete conflict to what we see in verse 31 when Jesus tells the disciples to get away by themselves to rest. No doubt you could say something about the importance of rest but the disciples rarely got any rest and Jesus never did.

Mark 6:34 reads, “As he went ashore, He saw a great crowd; and He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” There have been other similar scenes in Mark. This time the large crowd intrudes upon Jesus and the disciples’ plan for a little rest. In spite of the crowds, Jesus still has compassion. This short summary verse showed just how large Jesus’ following had become. Not only was the mission expanding, as the work of the apostles had shown (6:30), but many regularly attempted to track down Jesus. Mark described them (“many” as running faster on foot than those traveling by boat. They were intent on locating Jesus. Yet, when Jesus saw them, he viewed them as “sheep without a shepherd,” an image of their vulnerability. (The Greek used here is splagchnizomai, a great word denoting sympathy, mercy, and loving concern.)

Why does Jesus have compassion on them? “Because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” This is an important and powerful image being created for us. In life, there are numerous times we often feel like we are in that position. Here, we should also jump to the Gospel of John, chapter 10. John helps us further to understand the imagery of what Jesus was saying about Himself as the Good Shepherd. The message is:

  • Jesus is the one who knows and is known by the sheep.
  • Most importantly, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

This is the classic description of a shepherd of sheep. The flock knows the shepherd and the shepherd’s primary reason for being there is to protect the sheep, all the sheep. If this is the case, then what would it look like for Jesus to show compassion to these “shepherdless” sheep in Mark? You might be anticipating something like how Jesus healed their sick and took the children into his arms. But that’s not what the text says here. That comes later. What does Jesus do? “And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).

If we were to search the Hebrew Bible for all references to the phrase (“sheep without a shepherd”),  we would find it used in scenes in which God stands over His people protecting them against abusive shepherds (leaders) who no longer care for their sheep (e.g., Ezekiel 34:2-5 and Zechariah 11:4-17); and, Moses requested that the people not be left as “sheep without a shepherd” in light of his own failing (Numbers 27:17), to which the Lord responds by suggesting Joshua “in whom is the spirit” (Numbers 27:18).

Like many of the usages of shepherd language in the Hebrew Bible, here in Mark the language of Jesus as shepherd serves as a scathing critique of Israel’s false leaders. Ezekiel 34, for example, lambasts Israel’s kings for enriching themselves while ignoring the needs of the people: “Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not the shepherds feed the sheep? … You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals” (Ezekiel 34:2b-5).

Following as it does these narrative verses of John the Baptist’s beheading, the passage also serves as an indictment of Herod. The people of God have become precisely what Moses and Ezekiel warned against, sheep without a shepherd, weakened and scattered and vulnerable. Meanwhile their “shepherd,” Herod, throws a banquet “for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee” (verse 21), at which he kills the herald of God’s coming kingdom. The people are longing for, even chasing after, the true shepherd who will bring them into that kingdom.

Jesus, moved in compassion for these lost sheep, “began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). The food for which the people hunger is the very word of God, and in so feeding them Jesus shows Himself to be a shepherd “after [God’s] own heart,” feeding God’s people “with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). What is more, He shows himself to be the divine shepherd, the very Son of God in whom the kingdom has come. this verse is directing us today to embrace the same priority as being shown here, quickly, before it is too late, feed the people God’s Word!

Items for Discussion

  • What would you list as today’s failures of leadership? Consider all levels, our governments, federal and local, our families, our churches, our people.
  • Do you think that the food, the “word of God,” is more available or less available today and why?
  • Where do you see the greatest needs in society today for God? Why?
  • How could the Gospel’s message overcome the damage being done to our society today?
  • Where has the Christian church been successful and where has it failed?
  • Who is feeding the “flock” if they are hungry today? Who has become the shepherds in our society? Think about the various sources of knowledge being given out today – A few to think about are:
    • Media
    • News
    • Gaming
    • Entertainment Industry
    • Sports Industry
    • government
    • Gangs
    • What others can you think of
  • What do you think the impacts of drugs, addictions, broken families are on the problems of society today? How can we use the “word of God” to help?

Discussion Challenge

  • How can we the people, with limited power, limited wealth, help find a solution for our societies problems?

 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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