“Driven By Desperation”

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

July 18, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

| Centering Prayer |

Today’s message will be taken in reverse order.

I’ll begin with the ending verses 53 to 56 and conclude with the beginning verses 30 to 34.

Let us begin with a question:

Why were the sick laid in the marketplace

For Jesus to heal them?

I’m fascinated by

behavioral economics.

Behavioral economics is “a method of economic analysis

That applies psychological insights into human behavior

To explain economic decision-making.”

(Google search result for “Behavioral Economics”)

There have been three Nobel Prizes in Economic in the past 16 years

Awarded to research economist in behavioral economics,

The most recent being Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago in 2017.

Thaler’s research yielded insight into why people are predictably irrational

In ways that defy economic theory.

Behavioral economics examines incentives, both positive and negative,

(what can be done to encourage a behavior)

And consequences, both positive and negative.

Unintended consequences abound in systems that support

both rational and irrational decisions.

When it comes to incentives and consequences, here is an example:

If your employer offers a benefits package to you

That has free, matching money deposited into your retirement savings plan,

Without a requirement of mandatory participation,

Enrollment rates, or opt-in rates, are incredibly low.

Free money!

Who wouldn’t take free money.

Research shows a lot of people don’t.

However, if your employer offers a benefits package

That includes a pre-established retirement savings plan set up in your name

With a set amount taken out each paycheck matched by the employer,

Most employees will not opt-out.

They will remain in the pension plan.

They may not like the fact the employer is making a decision for them,

But the level of irritation doesn’t rise to the level

For them to take the effort to go to HR and change their benefit package.

The result is more employees will be saving for retirement,

Which, most would conclude,

Is a good thing.

Supporters of behavioral economics believe it is an effective tool to improve the world,

Critics suggest that it is manipulation and social engineering.

Positive reinforcement, or economic nudges, work.

There is a reason placing fruit at eye level in a store sells more fruit

While banning junk food just doesn’t work.

Behavioral economics has applications in so many areas of life and leisure;

Health care, manufacturing, education, technology, and social media

(think about all the opt-in and opt-out policies in Facebook, Google, and others).

It has applications in business and finance, politics and public policy, public safety, law enforcement and the courts, and,

I’d suggest today, interpreting the Gospel.

The Gospel of Mark quite eloquently narrates

How the kingdom of God upends the economy of this world.

“wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” (6:56)

Marketplace, or “agora”  (Greek) reflects a public space

In which legal hearings, elections, and debates took place,

Water is drawn from a centralized well,

Goods and services were bought and sold.

“Thus the marketplace was the political and commercial center of the city or town.”

(Elizabeth Webb, as found at working preacher dot org)

Today we learn

Family and friends gather in the sick, diseased, weakest, and most vulnerable members of the community;

Bring them in from exile,

begging outside the protection of the city walls.

They laid them in the political and commercial center of town,

Disrupting all economic and social commerce.

The marketplace in this world

Belongs to the rich and powerful.

In God’s kingdom,

The market is occupied by the poor and powerless.

In Jesus’ kingdom economy

The economy of this world is subverted,

“many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (10:31)

Desperation

Drives people to Jesus,

Where Jesus gathers them in

And heals them.

Desperation drives people to make decisions

That disrupt the marketplace and are economically irrational.

But in the Kingdom of God,

Desperation leads to being gathered together and being healed.

All who touched

“the fringe of (Jesus’) cloak … were healed.” (6:56)

Desperation drove the sick to the marketplace to be healed by Jesus.

But, be careful.

Desperation, absent of faith, can lead to irrational decisions and

Bad, unintended consequences.

Poverty, powerlessness, and sickness drive people to desperate measures.

People sell themselves into bankruptcy to pay for cancer treatments.

Individuals travel the world in search of miracle treatments and cures.

People interpret causality where there is none.

People leave family and ancestral homes behind in search of safety and security.

Individuals even pay human smugglers to be packed in a sweltering tractor trailer to cross the border.

People pack up their children and move elsewhere if food and shelter is unaffordable or unavailable.

Some even resort to running drugs, selling drugs, and selling themselves if it will help feed their children.

Absent of faith, desperation can lead to tragic outcomes.

Desperate, faithful people, however,

Gather in the marketplace,

Confident that Jesus will heal them.

Jesus heals them;

All of them,

Disrupting the economies of this world.

Faith and social action lead to healing.

Faith and social action lead to the healing of the world

and the completion of God’s Kingdom.

Allow me to pivot

To the second insight from this passage.

It is from these verses, 30-34, that I decided to title this message “Driven By Desperation.”

In this narrative,

Jesus gathered with his apostles

Who had been working the countryside in pairs,

Dependent upon the grace of God and the hospitality of the locals.

They had been

Preaching repentance, healing the sick, and casting out demons. (6:6-13)

By all accounts the apostles had been wildly successful;

So successful they drew crowds and were so busy they didn’t have time to eat.

Jesus gathers them in for a time to rest.

They attempted to slip away in a boat to a deserted place,

But their effort to take a day off

Was subverted by the persistent, relentless, pursuant crowd.

What made the crowd so persistent?

One scholar I read suggested the crowd’s behavior

Was a sign of being “driven by their own desperation.”

(Preaching the New Common Lectionary Year B After Pentecost, by Craddock, Hayes, Holladay, and Tucker, 1985, pg.100)

What made the crowd so desperate?

I don’t think it was the fact that Jesus and his apostles had been healing the sick in the surrounding towns and countryside.

Yes, Jesus and his apostles had been successfully,

Miraculously,

Healing the sick.

Certainly there would have been sick people in the crowd;

But not many.

Most sick and diseased people would not have been able to

Engage in an active pursuit of Jesus.

What made the crowd so desperate?

The three-step response of Jesus gives us a helpful clue.

1. Jesus sees the crowd.

2. Jesus has compassion on them,

because they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” (6:34)

3. Jesus begins to teach them many things.

Jesus sees they are wondering aimlessly, literally and figuratively,

Like sheep without a shepherd.

Without direction, they will become lost.

Without protection, sheep fall prey to wolves.

The expected lifespan of sheep without a shepherd is short,

Very short.

What made the crowd so desperate?

I’d suggest, based on Jesus’ response,

Came from a fear of death.

Fear of death will drive people to desperate acts.

To some extent

We all fear death;

Some more than others.

To some extent

We all fear the death of a loved one.

Death is the ultimate test of faith and

To some extent

Most of us wonder if we will live up to the test.

I know I do.  

The key for the faithful is simply this:

Allow the fear of death

To drive you to the feet of Jesus.

Let Jesus take it from there.

Which brings us to the third response of Jesus.

It is so revealing;

“he began to teach them many things.” (6:34)

Jesus taught them.

He connected the dots,

Stirred in the Gospel,

And bakes it with God’s eternal truth.

The conclusion appears before our very eyes:

Education is Christ’s response to our deepest, mortal fears.

Being informed brings assurance.

The cross and empty tomb is his faithful fulfillment of his promise and truth.

The education that Jesus taught is summed up in the third chapter of John.

It begins with

“God so loved the world.”

In other words, God loves every one of you.

God loves you.

Know it.

Wear it.

Share it.

“God gave his one and only Son.”

God makes sacrifices for you.

God made the greatest possible sacrifice just for you.

Yes, you are that important.

“Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish.”

This is Jesus’ promise:

Believe and you will not die.

Believe and receive eternal life.

He addresses the fear of death issue with crystal clarity.

Fear drives people to desperate measures.

Take over the marketplace.

Upset the economy, if that’s what it takes,

Lay the sick together, that they may be healed.

For the faithful

Desperation leads to being brought together

And being healed.

Fear drives people to desperate measures.

Chase down Jesus and his apostles.

Desperation drives one to the feet of Jesus,

That all may learn all that our Lord has to teach.

For the faithful

Desperation leads to the promise of the Gospel

And God’s faithful fulfillment of it.

This is Good News for the faithful

Driven to desperation.

Amen.

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