The second half of chapter six in the Gospel of Mark is a great summertime read. Jesus and his disciples plan a little retreat, a mini-vacation, some time away from the pressing crowds and their demands.
Chapter six begins with the story of Jesus’ unsuccessful ministry in his hometown of Nazareth. In verse thirty, the disciples return from their successful ministry tour. They desire to share with Jesus what they were able to teach and do in ministry. However, they keep getting interrupted by the crowds. Jesus suggests that they sneak away in the boat to a quiet little place away from the crowds.
Finding a quiet little corner tucked away where we can have Jesus all to ourselves is not easy though. As Jesus and the disciples head out, the crowd, hungry for the ministry of Jesus, guesses where they are heading and rush there ahead of them on foot.
Can you imagine the reaction of the disciples as they round the cove where Jesus has directed them so they can have their quiet little sabbatical and see the shoreline covered with people; people hungry for the healing touch of Jesus, people hungry for the life-giving teaching of Jesus?
Mark does not give us the reaction of the disciples. Instead, he tells us about how Jesus views these people. Jesus looks at them with compassion. He sees them as sheep without a shepherd (v. 34).
In Numbers 27, when God tells Moses that Moses is about to die, Moses asks for a successor, so that the people of Israel do not become like “sheep without a shepherd.”
Early on in her history, Israel adopts the image of the shepherd for the leader of the people. The kings of Israel and Judah are often called shepherds. Those kings who lead the people in faithfulness to God are called good shepherds. Those kings who get attracted to worshipping other gods or serving their selfish ends as leaders of the people are called bad shepherds.
Part of David’s greatness as a king is related to the skills he learned as a shepherd, providing food and water, leading the people of God to greener pastures, protecting them from enemies. Psalm 23 describes God with these shepherding characteristics of caring and providing for God’s people.
The second half of Mark chapter six illustrates Jesus as this type of good shepherd. He sees the crowd as a wandering flock, stops to feed them with his teaching and then with a miraculous meal. Jesus is the shepherd who is concerned about us as spiritual and physical beings.