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And the Twelve Told Him All – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester1 John 4:7 – 12
Psalm 72: 1 – 8
Mark 6: 30 – 44

Those of you who have heard me preach before know that when reading Scripture, my attention is often caught, not by the soaring passages, or the amazing miracles, but the details that often creep in around the edge. Yes, the majesty of the Prologue of John, or the poignancy of the Foot Washing at the Last Supper, or the beauty of the Psalms are not to be missed. However, there is more to Scripture than majesty, poignancy and beauty. There is also the ordinary routine of daily living. It is there, in the ordinary routine of daily living, that God can be found as well. And that is why I am drawn, not to the miracle of the loaves and the fish, but to what comes before.

Chapter Six in the Gospel according to Mark is one of those breathless sections of Mark. A lot happens, and I mean a lot. It begins with Jesus’ rejection by his hometown and carries on to the sending out of the Twelve on their mission, the dance of Herodias and the death of John the Baptist, the return of the Twelve from their mission, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the calming of the sea, and there arrival at Gennesaret. As I mentioned, in 56 breathless verses, Mark crams in an awful lot of action, so much so, that if it were read all at once, our heads would be spinning!

As you may know, this kind of concentrated action is typical of Mark’s Gospel. It reminds me of an excited child coming home from a great adventure trying to condense a whole day’s activity into a few sentences: and then we did this! Then we did that! Then this other thing happened! Then, guess what happened???!!!

In all this excitement, and especially in the face of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, it’s easy to miss what has gone before, especially when two stories are tied together. So while many are drawn to the Feeding, my attention rests on the return of the Twelve.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.[1]

With our eyes pulled down the page to the Feeding story, it’s easy to miss this simple sentence. It’s perhaps because this sentence is so easy to miss, that’s the thing I am drawn to this evening. And they told him all that they had done and taught.

Just to locate ourselves in the story, the Sending out of the Twelve began a few verses before what we heard tonight.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.[2]

Our Gospel tonight picks up the story. The apostles have returned, and like those excited children, they proceed to tell Jesus all they had done and taught. I can almost hear them: then this happened. Then that happened. Then this other thing happened. In my imagination, like a patient parent, Jesus listened. He didn’t rush them. He listened, as if what he was being told was the most important thing in the world.

A number of years ago, I lead a weekend retreat for a group of seminarians. The retreat centre was out in the country, surrounded by trees, and fields, and farms. On the Friday night, I introduced the group to silence, and I spoke of the importance of silence, especially during times of retreat. After that, I didn’t think anything more of it. Over the course of the weekend, I watched as people headed off on walks during the free time. I could tell some of the retreatants were taking the silence very seriously. They were the ones heading off on their own. Other retreatants were struggling with the silence, and I could tell that they were bursting to talk. They were the ones who headed of on walks in twos and threes. My feeling was that I had done my job on Friday, when I spoke about the importance of silence. I had to leave it up to the participants to find a degree of silence where they were comfortable. What I was not expecting was what happened Sunday morning.

Michelle had left her two quite young children at home for the weekend with her husband. She was one of the ones who was clearly struggling over the weekend, missing her family, and experiencing silence, for the first time. Michelle had been one of those who headed out for a walk with a companion. I guessed that as soon as they got around the bend, they would start to talk. I could not have been more wrong.

On Sunday morning, she told me what happened on that afternoon walk.

Walking down the lane, they passed a field where some cows were grazing. She immediately thought of her toddler who would go into raptures anytime they drove by a field of moo cows! Seeing the moo cows in the field, and thinking about her daughter, she turned to her companion and was about to tell her how much she was missing her family, when she remembered what I had said about the purpose of silence. Silence isn’t meant to inhibit conversation, but to enable conversation with the One who has invited us into retreat. So instead she turned to God, and told God all that was on her heart. As she spoke, she started to weep, as she said in a hushed voice, that was the first time she had told God anything really important.

I cannot hear this story of the return of the Twelve from their mission, and not think of Michelle, as through her tears of sadness and joy whispered to us, that for the first time in her life, she told God something important. I can imagine God’s deep satisfaction listening to Michelle talk about moo cows, and her daughter, and how much she was missing her family.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.

In the midst of telling Jesus how they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. [And how] they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick [and how] they cured them,[3] I can imagine that the Twelve also told Jesus, who they met, what they said, who they missed. I can imagine them telling Jesus things they had perhaps never told anyone before, I can imagine them thinking to themselves, that’s the first time I have told anyone something really important.

With our eyes pulled down the page to the feeding story, it’s easy to miss the story of the return of the Twelve. But it’s good to remember that Jesus really does want to hear all that we have done and taught, because when we do that, we begin, perhaps for the very first time, to tell God what is really important in our lives.


[1]Mark 6: 30

[2]Mark 6: 6b – 13

[3]Mark 6: 12 – 13

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