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The Green Grass in the Desert Place

November 7, 2006

And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.
And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.
And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him.
And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed:
Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.
He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?
He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.
And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. Mark 6:31-39

In a desert place they sat on green grass. They were parched of spirit, and the Water of Life preached and taught them upon the green grass. It probably wasn’t really a desert in the sense of infertile sand, but a deserted place. And to this deserted place came five thousand men, and women and children as well (Matthew 14:21), a ragtag flock who moved the Lord with compassion. The Lord began preaching and healing and feeding the multitude; he had so much compassion in his own grief. His cousin and forerunner, John the Baptist, had just been murdered to avenge the vanity of Herodias.

Matthew Henry notes that God ordered this disorderly flock; he had them number themselves and sit in companies of hundreds and fifties, because he is a God of order. And he made them recline (ανακλιναι) in a green pasture, perhaps one like that upon which David reflected in Psalm 23:1-2. Want is transformed into luxuriant fulfillment. The Lord’s sheep may safely graze and leave their desert minds behind.

Then Jesus fed his hearers, multiplying five loaves and two fish into provision for the five thousand and more. We are not told that anyone marveled, or was amazed, or thanked him. They simply ate and were filled. The Bread of Life filled his hungry sheep and was then able to send them away and depart. They still had twelve baskets full of bread and fish.

His disciples did not reflect on the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened. (Mark 6:52) Evidently they were more impressed that their Lord quelled the wind and sea and and restored their safety; the bread and the five thousand were out of sight, out of mind as they faced their own peril in the storm. Perhaps they had not been awfully hungry when the bread was multiplied, but they did fear the wind that distressed their ship. Worse, they feared a ghost when they beheld Jesus walking toward them on the sea. (Mark 6:49)

Matthew’s account provides more detail than Mark’s. Jesus beckons Peter to walk out to him on the water. And Peter flails. (Matthew 14:28-30) This would not be the last time the Lord would reprove Peter for his little faith. (Matthew 14:31) It is so entirely possible to have a desert moment immediately after leaving behind the verdant pasture.

Ι find ερημος, “deserted place,” or “uninhabited region,” or “desert,” one of the most beautiful words in the beautiful Greek language. Its accusative form is ερεμον, which reminds me of “Erewhon,” the reverse of “nowhere,” and the title of a utopian satire by Samuel Butler. The desert place to which the five thousand followed Jesus was almost as if it was nowhere; but the green grass where they reclined to listen to him teach and where they ate until they were filled, made it somewhere miraculous.

Posted by Mrs. B at 6:35 AM

Mike Pitzler said…
Yes. The world would ‘retire’ to erehwoNs in Hawaii or Florida or Arizona, but they find no rest there because there is no rest except in Christ. Utopia, as I know You know, is ‘ou’ ‘topos’, or ‘nowhere’ in Greek. (I’m still a blind, groping marsupial in the blogosphere.)

I like the desert, too. Curiously, the pouring rain can be very peaceful with the right raingear.

ASV Isaiah 35:6 Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.

9:28 AM


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