I have to drive over six particularly obnoxious speed bumps every time I leave my condo parking lot. “Bump” is what you’d properly call them if they were half their height. Bellingham seems to love such speed “bumps,” but I can’t figure out if their abundance means we live in the fast lane or the slow one. Either way, I’m not a fan.
One place I love speed bumps, however, is in the Bible, and this morning in church I encountered one. Before I hit it, we had cruised through a lot of biblical text, which I never mind. Many a sermon in the world would be better if the preacher just read the text instead of the sermon. But I digress…
We started with Psalm 78 – a fabulous 72-verse retelling of Israel’s history through the rule of King David. Then we landed in the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5000 in Mark 6, the sermon text for the day. Even though I pretty much know the story inside and out, I followed along in my Bible. When we hit vs. 39, a word stopped me short while everyone else read on to the end. The word was “green”: “Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass.”
Who cares what color the grass was? Was Mark trying to say it was springtime? Why would that matter? Does the Bible talk about “green” things somewhere else that Mark might be referencing?
And that’s a speed bump. You run into something in the text that makes you scratch your head, and say, “That seems kind of random.”
Biblical narrators don’t throw in random words. Their stories are carefully crafted to help us understand who God is. The New Testament writers of narrative (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts), especially, were interested in showing how Jesus, God in the flesh, was everything the Old Testament had anticipated. In order to do this, they tell a good number of their stories against an Old Testament backdrop.
Back to Mark 6. I chewed on the word “green” while the sermon got started – listening with one ear and trying to hear in my head with the other ear how “green” shows up in the Old Testament. Psalm 23? That talks about “green,” doesn’t it? I flipped back to verify. Yup. Green pastures. Hmm. Does Mark talk about shepherds in the feeding of the 5000? I flipped back to where we’d started. Sure enough: “Jesus…had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (6:34).
At this point in my “study,” I could (and should) only say that it seems like Mark is making a connection between the feeding of the 5000 and Psalm 23. But since I was sitting in church with just my Bible – and no access to commentaries or other study tools, and not enough time to have thought it through carefully – I wouldn’t say anything more than this.
A speed bump slows you down long enough to look up from a familiar story and wonder if you have been missing something. If you’re really going to hear what the text says, you’ve got some homework to do.
Happily, my pastor does his homework, so he could help us see how Mark uses the story of the loaves and fish to show how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. (If you want to hear the “rest of the story,” it’ll be posted under today’s date here.)
P.S. As it turns out, Mark 6 does relate to Psalm 23…and then some.