It ain’t easy being green, or a vicar, or a dad; they each come with their own special challenges, although being a frog would be hard. But what must it be like to have been an apostle?
The spiritual ones among us would rejoice, like Fr Mulcahy of M*A*S*H, because they were nearer the cross and, by implication, nearer to that form of spiritual power that is measured in centimetres and is based on the Theory of Proximity.
Then there’s us others who are separated by centuries from the original events yet still manage to get caught up with every wind and breeze that comes along.
It never ceases to amaze me that, one minute, we can be face to face with some miracle or other and the next be dragging our bottom-lip around as if we’d lost a quid and picked up sixpence.
Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah – and lots of others – were masters at that game. They have their hi-lo moments, as did the apostles in Mark’s Gospel. In the Feeding Story, Jesus tells his Boys to feed the large number of followers. The Boys know there’s no Brumbies or Maccas close by, so they get all aerated and sarcastically ask Him where He thinks the nearest food outlet might be.
I can hear the exasperation in his answer: “How many loaves have you?” It’s like “When are you going to get it?” So he takes the few loaves and fish and multiplies them right before their eyes. That’s the Jesus way.
The sadness is that the Boys miss out again on grasping the reality that the Kingdom of God is there in front of them and that they’ve just muffed an invitation to participate in it.
This Big Feed contrasts with many Church meals I’ve attended: you know the sort – tables groaning with chicken wings and quiche, piles of salads, sandwiches (egg mostly), devilled kidneys (maybe), bread rolls, slices, coleslaw, apple crumble and Peter’s Ice Cream to top it off.
The Big Feed had none of this. Rather, the resources were meagre by comparison to a pot-luck supper. It was more like “Whatcha got in the pocket of ya cloak?” than “Would you like to bring a slice or a meat dish?” It was more like “Sit in groups of fifty” rather than “Table 12 goes first.”
Relying on, participating in, the miracle nearly always means that there are often more resources available than we first realise. That’s the Jesus way.
However, if storms are your thing, and not food, then the next part of the story is for you, even if it’s more difficult. To start with, the disciples are described as ‘terrified’ and ‘astounded’ as they face the water but they’re still not getting it. Then, perhaps the most poignant verse in the whole of the Gospel: “they did not understand about the loaves for their hearts were hardened.”
We’ll hear this ‘hardened hearts’ thing again in the next Big Feed Story and I’m beginning to think that this is a bit like a mantra, a chorus, a cycle that keeps getting repeated. How easily we lapse into being ignorant and fearful followers, much more like hangers-on than co-workers.
There may well be a case to argue that this was Mark’s argument with The Boys all along. They were call to follow and they were to participate – but they certainly weren’t picking up any clues about participation. Maybe doing it is just too hard.
And isn’t that true also as we look over our life and the ministry to which we’ve been called? That while a vocation might be clear, the doing of it is often clouded by other stuff like sloth or disobedience.
While we might want to try and balance a call with an activity (or series of activities), Mark is actually challenging us to look further into the area of the miraculous as a significant aspect of our work because, above all else, that’s His domain and that’s where He wants us to be.