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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bryant

Mark 8:1-10: A Word of Mercy, A World of Grace

1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha

I’m stuck on this line only: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place.” Or, as another version says, “How can one feed people with bread in the wilderness?”

Or, as another psalm says, “Can God set a table in the wilderness?”

A good question. A great question.

Can God set a table in the wilderness?

I work in the wilderness. I work on the street. I work side by side with the best and worst that spills out into city sidewalks. I live and work next to drug deals and donut shops. I work in the wilderness. I live in a place of wonder, tension, pain, and uncertainty. To live and work on the street is to find oneself always confronted by what it means to be a vulnerable human.

The wilderness,Christ shows us, is place for a table, a place for hospitality, a place wherein Christ lays himself down and establishes his abundance.

Last week, a pottery studio brought a pottery wheel and some clay and art projects to our church parking lot. We were grateful. We brought chairs and tables and donuts. We waited in the uncertainty of who would show up, of who would sit with us.

We were setting up, as author Kurt Thompson says, “an outpost of beauty and goodness in the wilderness of exile.”

And a word came to me, “A Word of Mercy, a World of Grace.”

A Word of Mercy, a World of Grace

Mercy is the Word, Mercy is the offering, Mercy is the life laid down, the seed in the soil, the the grain of wheat that falls in the earth. The bread of heaven, Christ’s gracious offer of himself.

But with that offering, there is then a table, an abundance, a harvest. In a wilderness that squeezes us, that constricts us, there is, suddenly, a banquet hall, the infinite riches of his goodness. There is space, there is room.

What can we do in the wilderness but to wait, to wait for God to set a table?

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