Jesus was a failure in ministry.

At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel Jesus is portrayed condcuting a fabulously successful healing ministry.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mark 1:32-34)

But there are two tiny seemingly insignificant words in this picture to which it is important to pay attention. In the introduction to this story Mark says the people of the town

brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons.

But, when Mark describes the results of Jesus’ ministry he says, Jesus

cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.

Many” is not “all“. What about those who were not included in the “many“?

Mark goes on to suggest that Jesus had not finished the necessary work in this town.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ (Mark 1:35-37)

Why is “everyone searching for” Jesus?  Their needs have not been fully met. “Many” but not “all” have been healed.

What will Jesus do? Will he go back to the village and finish the job he has not completed? Will he stay with the people of this village until all are satisfied?

Jesus answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ (Mark 1:38)

Jesus failed to complete the job. He left legitimate needs unmet and expectations unfulfilled. He did not satisfy everyone. Even, after his final physical departure from  this earth, Jesus left behind a terrible mess.  And, he did not apologize for his failure. He said to his disciples,

you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. ( Mark 14:7)

This is not lack compassion; it is not counsel for complacency. Jesus was simply acknowledging reality. The needs of this physical  time-bound realm will always exceed the available material resources.

If I allow the heart-breaking needs of the world to become the centre of my life, I will always come to the end of the day depleted and feeling inadequate.

My desire to heal the wounds of the world may come from the best intention. But, as long as these needs drive my life, I will never be free to follow Jesus to the place of abundance from which I will be able to enter into deep and loving communion with all of creation.

Confronted with the clamouring demands of an entire village Jesus took his disciples and went “on to the neigbouring towns.” He walked away from the immediate and pressing need before him because he had a clear sense of purpose. He knew he had come to “proclaim the message”.

What was the message Jesus came to proclaim?

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’   (Mark 1:14b,15)

God is present. You are not alone. Even when you are not healed, when you still hurt, feel lonely, and forsaken, you have not been abandoned. The “kingdom of God has come near.”

The goal of ministry is to help all people open their hearts (“repent”) and trust the presence of love.

The only real failure in ministry is the failure to keep the first thing first.

When Martha asked Jesus to get Mary to help her in her work, Jesus

answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ (Luke 10:41,42)

It is not that Mary would never get up and do anything. But Mary was starting in the right place. She was starting by sitting at the feet of Jesus. When we start at the feet of Jesus, the necessary tasks get done without the bitterness and resentment that burdened Martha.

When ministry is driven by external expectation, demand, even well-meaning desire to serve, it cannot proclaim “the good news of God,” that in Christ we have all been set free. Life-giving ministry only happens when the ministry starts with resting in  the presence of God.