Some thoughts about Jesus in the Marketplace

Read today's Gospel from Mark here.

I am something of a news junkie. In the mornings, I listen to the news on my radio app while I get ready for work, and my phone lights up a couple of times a day with a notification of a breaking news story from the Times. 

There’s so much going on in this big wide world, and while I know I couldn’t possibly keep up with all of it, I am deeply interested in trying to stay connected at some level with the world’s events and people and stories.

If I were reading about today’s Gospel in the newspaper, I might find it in the entertainment section. Huge crowds of people are following this guy Jesus around! They are looking for him to come to a place near them, and they rush out to meet him everywhere he goes, they recognize him easily and flock to him, as if he and the disciples were the Grateful Dead.

Or I might read it in the lifestyle and wellness section. The world is so busy, and there are so many things pulling at us from this side and that. Our spiritual leader Jesus reminds us that we need sometimes to get away, to refresh, to rest, to sit down and eat a healthy meal and recharge. (I know that’s right. I’m going to tear out that article and put it on my refrigerator!)

Or the health section. There is a great epidemic and it is widespread. There is so much need - in the cities, on the farms, in villages. Everywhere there are people, there is sickness and despair. People are desperate for healing, and they are helping one another the best they can, volunteering to take their family, friends and neighbors to a place where they might receive help from Jesus who is a great healer.

Heck, it might even be in the education section. Jesus, the teacher, mentor to many disciples, sends them out to teach others and then brings them back to talk about their experiences to help them be better teachers themselvesHe not only teaches the few but also the many. He is that rare kind of teacher who is spurred on by compassion, especially for those who are struggling and scattered because of their circumstances, and his teaching is all about the healing power of love.

I imagine any one of these stories might resonate with you.

But frankly, the part that really jumps out at me from the Gospel today is the word marketplace. “Wherever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

The marketplace. 

I listen to the marketplace morning report on NPR. I read in the business section about what’s happening in the world of, well, business. For many of us, marketplace is the word that describes the the place that is at the center of the stuff that makes the world (or at least our world) go round. 

In the old days, too, of course, the marketplace was the center of everything. The marketplace was not just where you got your bread and vegetables but also it was the public square, at the intersection of commerce and culture and conversation.

And in this story, oddly enough, that’s where the people brought their sick. Right into the marketplace. Not the synagogue, not the leper colony or other enclave of the unwell off to the side somewhere, not even the village healer’s house. They brought them into the marketplace in every village and town.

For the last week or so, almost every day my phone has lit up with a news flash about the situation in Greece, about the Greek economic crisis, the opinions of the Greek people, the bailout offer from the European community, and everybody’s reaction to everything. This is such a complex situation and I have struggled to understand all the ins and outs of it. But the headline that really struck me appeared in last Saturday’s New York Times, which read: “Greek Financial Crisis Hits Poorest and Hungriest the Hardest. “

That story wasn’t in the business section, though.

But maybe it should have been. This is not the first time I’ve seen a headline reporting that the poor and hungry often suffer while the world is working on something else. 

And so with all this in mind, I am wondering about how Jesus is asking me to see the world around me in light of this story today. I know I am always called to see things through the eyes of faith, but I sometimes have a hard time not compartmentalizing life. I’ve often preferred keeping things in their proper sections like the newspaper does. But life isn’t really like that. All kinds of stuff gets mashed up together whether we like it or not. And probably for the best. I think Jesus belongs in all my categories and not just in one.

And so I am wondering. Maybe the message from the Gospel today asks us all to bring the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick, the dying, the desperate right into the marketplace, right into the center of things, the place where much of our focus is, and beg for the world’s attention. Maybe the lost, the least, the grieving, the sad and confused should be right there in the center instead of off to the side.

And maybe the message from the Gospel today is that Jesus walks through the marketplace, too, just like we do, and when he does, he leaves healing in his wake. What would the world be like if we all did that, if we all left healing in our wake?

Healing is the thing Jesus was most known for, and from what I can tell, healing is the thing all of us need, in one form or another, at one time or another in our lives. Many of us carry burdens - grief, guilt, anxiety - and some of us carry illness around as well. Life is hard.

The good news is that Jesus is coming to our town, every day, always, to walk through our lives and our world. He brings wisdom and compassion. He has things to teach us and power to heal us. He is the place in which we can find rest. We are his sheep and he is our shepherd who cares for us and attends to us, watching over us, gently bringing us home, gathering us into community - this community - where we are loved, when the world and its ways do their best to scatter and isolate us. 

This is at the forefront of Jesus’ focus and work. Perhaps it should be ours, too.

Because wherever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.