we’re entering a series at church of a study of the gospel of mark. this past fall was the NT challenge, and several dedicated individuals in the church read the entire NT in a small number of days. jj and i were not a part of that dedicated crowd, i won’t lie. but i’m very impressed by the people who followed through. now we’re going to slow down just a bit and read the entire gospel (mark’s version) over a period of time. this week’s “homework” was to read the gospel of mark in one sitting. again: failure. i didn’t even get through it in a week. but i did give more of an effort to this assignment then the previous.

part of my problem is that i like to appraise on thoughts as they arrive. when this or that catches my attention, i want to ponder. not necessarily a bad thing, but not conducive to speed reading mark. however, i read much larger chunks than usual, and i’m quite thankful because this post was born.

first was the story of feeding the 5k. it starts by the disciples gathering together with jesus after just having been sent out to do a bunch of ministry – healing, preaching, proclaiming, whathaveyou. they gather together and jesus says, “lets go off by ourselves and rest – we’ve been on the go, you haven’t even had time to eat!” so off they go and, lo and behold, the crowd follows them. then it’s dindin time and they’re hungry.

this was supposed to be a restful retreat with jesus. it was time for the disciples to be fed, not serve as waiters. so i can understand just a little bit of their feeling when they tell jesus, send them home! when jesus asks how much food they have, it’s 5 loaves, 2 fish. not much. but he says to serve it anyway. so they do, and in return there’s a dozen baskets left. more than what they started with.

this is a wonderful story of faith, of serving, of looking beyond what is right in front of you. but i was most caught by the pericope that followed not even a few chapters later. it’s a climatic moment, no doubt, when jesus asks the disciples “who do you think i am?” after Peter answers the Christ, Jesus gives a brief speech. the message puts it like this: Don’t run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and i’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

i wonder if the feeding of the 5k (and then later, again, the 4k) was a precursor to what Jesus finally put into words. that the way of a fulfilling life is not self-preservation but self-giving. and there will be times that you’re tired – drained -and feel like people are just sucking the life out of you and now they want dinner. there will be times that you look at what you have to offer and say, it’s not enough.

but jesus says the way to find more is to give it away. by breaking the bread and offering it to others, the disciples ended up with a feast. and isn’t that the way it goes with love? when you preserve and protect you limit the love you are able to recieve.

in our culture today there’s this idea that you “always have to look out for #1.” that if you don’t take care of yourself first, you’re worthless to others. i think there’s a grain of truth there. i’ve been in ministry enough to know that extrovert hangovers exist for a reason. and if you’re not drawing in the water, you can’t pour it out. Jesus was habitually taking care of his own spiritual connection to the father in that he got up every day and prayed alone. he had “me time.” but never at the expense of others. never, when someone needed him, did he say, “you know, i could just use an evening in tonight. raincheck?”

i think about the dryest times in my life and they are, more often than not, also the lonliest. they’re the times that i’m making an attempt to focus on the self. they’re the times that i’m not connected and contributing to anything beyond my tummy or pocketbook. my relationships falter when i begin to think that they’re not serving me enough. but the better friend or wife or mother i try to become to others, the more fulfilling those relationships become.

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