“THE HERMIT OF BRIBIE ISLAND” Pentecost 8 Year B Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Some years ago I watched a documentary on TV about the “Hermit of Bribie Island” – the artist Ian Fairweather.
As a child in the 1960’s, I grew up in Caboolture and I remember, this rather dirty, smelly, long haired, barefooted hermit shopping for his paints and food in the town centre.
Many people had tried to help him but he just wanted to be left alone. The documentary told a story of a time when he was staying with a friend who was trying to be helpful and kept asking Fairweather if he needed anything.
Obviously annoyed and yearning for a bit of peace and quiet he asked for a hammer and nails and then set about nailing his door shut – Fairweather would then come and go from the house through the bedroom window.
There are times in our life, when all we want from others is to be left alone and allowed to retreat into our own little world. There are times when all we want to do is to get away from others and to be by ourselves.
In Mark 6:7-13 we have the record of the sending out of the twelve disciples on their mission into gentile lands. It is followed by the story of John the Baptists death!
The beheading of John the Baptist as told by St Mark is a salient reminder of the cost of discipleship.
In our gospel reading for today from Mark 6:30 we have the account of the return of the disciples.
Jesus responds to the weariness, the tiredness of his apostles. Mark tells us that the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him of all the things that they had done and of all that they had taught. We are told that they had been so busy, that they didn’t even have time to eat.
Mark sets the story by telling us that Jesus called them away by boat to a lonely place on the other side of the lake, where they might have peace and be able to rest for a while.
We might be led to think that the central message of this particular reading from Mark is about the disciples finding some time to rest and recuperate from their mission.
However I think that the central message that the gospel writer really wanted to impart to his hearers had more to do with the compassion that Jesus showed to those in need.
The first part of this reading (vss. 30-34), is about the compassion of Jesus for his disciples. Jesus recognised their need and it was for this reason that he took them away that they might rest and be nourished.
However we know from the story that as soon as they were in the boat they were recognized, and the people gathered in from every surround – from every town and village.
We are told by Mark (vs. 44) that the multitude eventually reached some 5,000 in number. And in this second part of the reading we are told that Jesus looked out upon the crowd and “was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
I think that the reading is not about wanting to be left alone – it is not about wanting to escape from the multitudes – rather it is about showing compassion.
If we try to understand the context or the time in which Mark was writing then we might also begin to grasp the significance of why Mark tells this story of compassion.
Mark wrote his gospel in Rome during or just after the great persecutions that followed on from the devastating fire of Rome in July 64 AD which the mad Emperor Nero conveniently blamed on the Christians. (Tacitus, Annals, XV)
In that time Christians suffered greatly, but there were also many of their poorer Roman neighbours who struggled to survive after being burned out of house and home.
Mark was writing for that group of Christians in Rome to tell them that discipleship was all about doing as Jesus had done – in having such open and generous compassion not just for fellow believers, but for all people.
The implication for the church today is obvious.
We can never escape, run away from, or ignore the work of compassion inspired by the Spirit who presents us with the opportunity to be Christ-like in our caring for others.
The compassion of Jesus stands out as the most remarkable feature in this gospel passage which records his dealing with the disciples and with the multitudes.
The core of the story is this – that as Christ was moved to have compassion on those in need. Accordingly, we also should be inspired and motivated to respond in compassion to those around us whom we know to be in need.
As Christians are called to follow Christ and to be a compassionate people and to build a compassionate society
The story is not just about us needing to rest our weary bones and have a feed – it is more about showing the compassion of Christ to those who are hurting and in need. AMEN