For the setting and a cast of characters for this series, click here.
Mark walked into the courtyard from the house, greeting Simeon before sitting down next to his mother. She offered him a platter of dried fish, and he popped one in his mouth, chewing slowly as he surveyed the gathering. “Rachel seems happy tonight,” he observed. Miryam’s face creased into a wide smile as she said, “Yes! You know how she continues to feel bad about not being able to contribute to the shared meal, no matter how often I tell her that there’s always enough, regardless of what each person brings. Well, apparently she bumped into an old friend of her family in the marketplace this morning, and when he heard about the challenges she and her sisters have faced since losing their father, he bought her a sackful of food.” She gestured to the platter. “That fish you’re enjoying? She brought that, along with those loaves of bread. And a couple of skins of wine.” Mark regarded Rachel again. “Such generosity – this food could have fed them for days. And we would not have known that she had hoarded it.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully. “That reminds me of another of Peter’s favorite stories…” He washed down the fish with some wine before standing to address the ecclesia.
“In telling the story of what happened to John, I interrupted the story of Jesus sending the twelve out to proclaim the message of repentance, and to heal people of disease and the demonic. Let us hear what happened when they returned. The apostles gathered together with Jesus, and they reported to him all that they had done and taught. And Jesus said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a wilderness place and rest a while.’ For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they went away in a boat to a wilderness place by themselves. But they were not to enjoy the promised rest just yet.
“The people saw them going, and many recognized them, so as the disciples headed out in the boat with Jesus, the crowds ran ahead on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. And when Jesus went ashore, he saw a great multitude, and he felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Mark lifted his cup to his lips, and offered a grateful smile to Rachel, acknowledging her generosity, before placing it back on the low table before him.
“Throughout our story we find the promise of G_d providing rest for G_d’s people in this very setting: the wilderness. We find it in the Law and the Prophets, and now Jesus offers the ancient hope of rest to the crowds gathered in the wilderness to hear him teach. For we are people of the new exodus, those who have been liberated from the power of sin and death by the new Moses.”
“And,” interjected Simeon, “by the new Joshua: Yeshua of Nazareth.” He stood to address those gathered. “As Yohannan has told us the story of Jesus each night, we have seen that those responsible for the welfare of G_d’s people failed to care for them. Whether it be priests, or teachers of the Law, or ‘kings’ such as Herod, we were indeed like sheep without a shepherd. This was the concern Moses brought to G_d in the wilderness, after which G_d appointed Joshua to be Moses’ successor. This was the concern G_d expressed through the prophet Ezekiel, as well as making the promise to one day send a faithful shepherd who would provide rest for G_d’s people in the wilderness.” He searched his memory for the text before saying, “‘I will feed my flock, and I will lead them to rest. I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment.’ Well, as the lost, and the broken and the sick gathered around Jesus, the fat and the strong plotted against him.” Simeon nodded at Mark, then took his seat once more.
“Thank you Simeon,” said Mark. “Now, when it was already quite late, Jesus’ disciples came up to him and said, ‘The place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You give them something to eat!’ And they said to him, ‘Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?’“
“That’s a pretty disrespectful response,” observed Yiftach. “If I’d spoken like that to Simon bar Giora…well, let’s just say he would not have been best pleased. But two hundred denarii – that’s a year’s wage for most of us gathered here. Just how many people are we talking about out there in the wilderness?”
“Five thousand men,” responded Mark.
“How many?” returned Yiftach in an incredulous voice…