Average Joe

Mark 6:34, 56


2074 words


Please turn in the pew Bibles to the gospel of Mark, chapter 6.  I am going to read two verses today, V34 and V56

34  As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

56  And wherever he 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.

Amen.  The Word of God.  Thanks be to God.


He has nine friends.  He drinks the milk in the bowl after the cereal is finished.  He eats 25 pounds of candy per year—per year not per day.  This is the average Joe, the average American male.  He recycles stuff, at least occasionally.  He usually goes to bed before midnight.  He believes in God, and goes to church at least once a month.

Kevin O’Keefe, a former magazine writer, spent two years crunching numbers and developing average criteria such as age and the ability to name the Three Stooges.  He did this in order to figure out what Average Joe is like.  In case you are wondering, the average American male is 36 years old, and most can name the Stooges.

As far as I know O’Keefe does not deal with Average Jill American.  Probably she doesn’t drink the milk in the bowl after the cereal is finished, but she no doubt says the word “precious” more often, and does 400 loads of laundry a year, and drives her SUV    9, 856 miles every year to soccer practices and Tupperware parties, and average Jill has just joined Weight Watchers for the third time.

The most average American, according to Kevin O’Keefe is Robert Burns, who lives in a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut, and earns a living as a maintenance man.  He is 5-foot-8, and weighs 185 pounds.  He has three children, and prefers smooth peanut butter over chunky.  He embodies 140 of the average American statistics, and because of this, he has earned the right to be called Joe American.   Robert Burns is, according to O’Keefe, our most ordinary citizen.

Kevin O’Keefe’s book is called The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation’s Most Ordinary Citizen.  Speaking about the book in Newsweek magazine (Joseph, Nicole. “Here’s Joe American.” Newsweek, October 31, 2005, 8), O’Keefe says, “There were a lot of surprises along the way.  We have this image that the average American lives on a farm in rural America.” That have not been true since the 1920s.

As religious people, we are most interested in what O’Keefe has to say about Average Joe’s religion.  We are encouraged to discover that most Americans believe in God, but we are discouraged when we read that most Americans are sort of slack when it comes to putting that belief into practice.  The average person only goes to church about a dozen times a year.  That is not good, but still we can say that Average Joe and Average Jill are somewhat interested in God and Jesus. 

Fortunately, Jesus is far more concerned about us than we are about him.   Average Americans think that Jesus has some degree of importance.  Jesus thinks that we are very important.

At the start of today’s passage from the gospel of Mark, Jesus is luring his disciples away from their work to a deserted place, where they can rest.  They take a boat across the Sea of Galilee to a spot where they hope to enjoy a day of relaxation.  They are looking forward to kicking back, goofing off a little, taking some time to recharge.

But a crowd of average Galileans has a different plan. They see Jesus and the disciples going across the sea of Galilee, which is really just a large fresh water lake, so thousands of Galileans dash around the lake to meet him.  That was quite a feat.  It is a long way around the Sea of Galilee.

In any case, as soon as Jesus steps out of the boat, the crowd swarms around him.  Their plan, if you can call it that, was just to follow Jesus to the other side of the lake.  They have not thought beyond that.  Jesus sees their need for direction and protection and healing.

And Mark tells us, in the original Greek of the gospel, that Jesus “is moved in his bowels” (Mark 6:34).  That sounds like Jesus has stomach problems.  But not so.  To the first century Middle Eastern way of thinking, the bowels were the source of kindness and pity; the bowels were the place deep within a person where feelings of compassion came from.  Today, we would say that his “heart was moved.”  The NRSV translates it simply as “he had compassion on them.”  But in the first century, he was moved “in his bowels.”

When he saw the crowd, Jesus had a powerful, gut feeling.  He had overwhelming compassion for them, because they are wandering through life like sheep without a shepherd.  His feelings come from the very core of his being.  He doesn’t just think about them, he feels for them, in his heart, in his gut.

This feeling he has is for Average Joe Galilean.  You don’t see this same kind of reaction toward the upper class, the leaders of the political or religious establishment.  Jesus often reacted toward the upper crust, the elite, harshly—because they did not care about people in need, because they oppressed the poor.

But Jesus loved ordinary people, and his love for the average Galilean lead him to change his plans for a day of rest, and instead focus on healing people.

Now Mark chapter 6 is great story, but you might ask, What does it have to do with Average Joe American.  What does it say to Robert Burns, or to his wife, or his children, friends and neighbors? 

It says, Jesus cares.  Jesus feels compassion for the Average American.   Now of course, Jesus feels compassion for everyone.  Jesus loves Iraqis and Iranians, Israelis and Palestinians, Hutus and Tutsis.  As the children’s song says, “Jesus loves all the children of the world.”  But since I am talking specifically today about Kevin O’Keefe’s book, I want to concentrate on Americans.  Jesus loves the average American, and let’s face it, that’s us.  We are not the rich and famous.  The news media does not care what you and I think.  That is all right.  Jesus loves us.

When we are hurting, Jesus hurts with us.  Whether we show it to the world or not, Jesus knows and suffers with us.  He is moved in his bowels by our pain just as he was moved by the suffering of lepers and demoniacs during his earthly ministry.  Jesus feels pity for the 280 million citizens of the United States, just as he felt pity for the thousands of hungry people who gathered near the Sea of Galilee.

For years now, people have been asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”   Maybe a better question is, “What Would Jesus Feel?”  We know the answer to that question.  Jesus feels compassion.  He feels deep, heartfelt, and unconditional compassion for the powerful and the powerless, the misguided and the misunderstood, the least and the lost, the nuisances and the nobodies.  He feels compassion for us.

Back in 1901, Frank E. Graeff was going through some difficult times—he was despondent, he had doubts, he was in physical pain.  He turned to the Bible for comfort and found these wonderful words in I Peter 5:7: “He cares for you.”  After meditating on that truth, Graeff wrote a gospel song titled, "Does Jesus Care?"


The first verse asks:

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained

Too deeply for mirth or song,

As the burdens press, and the cares distress

And the way grows weary and long?


Then the chorus of the song shouts an answer:

Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,

His heart is touched with my grief;

When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,

I know my Savior cares.


Jesus knows the pain that we feel, and he cares. When we stand by those who are suffering in the hospital, Jesus suffers with them and us.  If we stand in a police station, agonizing about loved ones in trouble with the law, Jesus stands with us.  If our cherished plans and dreams are taken away through what seems to be the careless actions of others, or the injustice of the world, Jesus feels our pain. When illness or death push in upon us, Jesus is with us.


Jesus loves us.  Jesus also teaches us.  He does not want us to wander aimlessly, like sheep without a shepherd, so he instructs us in his will and his way. Now this is where it gets hard.  We find it easy to accept the love of Jesus, but it is not easy to do what Jesus tells us to do.

Jesus warns us against anger, adultery, lust, divorce, and greed.  Jesus command us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We don’t want to do that.  We want Jesus to be with us and to ease our pains and help us along the way, but we don’t want to do what Jesus told us to do.

But we have no choice. Our faith in Jesus does not allow us to live in a way that is self-centered and self-indulgent.  As followers of Christ, we are commanded to care for the poor and vulnerable, and to act as good stewards of God’s creation.  We are challenged to be peacemakers, and to respect the image of God in every person.  Our views on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, war, and AIDS cannot be determined by our personal preferences.  Instead, our views are reflections of teachings of our Lord.  In other words, it does not matter what I think.  It only matters what Jesus taught.

Jesus was always a teacher.  He taught in parables, in plain language, by example.  Our prayer is that his teachings will penetrate our hearts and our souls. 

When we are too well pleased with ourselves, we need the teachings of Jesus to disturb our self-righteousness.  When our dreams come true only because we have dreamed too little, we turn to the teachings of Jesus for a larger vision.  When we have such an abundance of things that we are losing our thirst for God, Jesus teaches us a higher way.


Jesus not only teaches us; Jesus heals us.  He comes to us when we are broken in body, mind or spirit, and gently puts together our scattered shards.  He heals the sick, comforts the grieving, and forgives those who are shattered by their sinfulness.  When a teenager named James Dungy committed suicide last fall, it was a terrible blow to his father Tony, who is also the coach of the Indianapolis Colts.  Many prayers were lifted up as the Dungy family mourned this loss, and eventually Tony Dungy returned to his work with the team. In an interview after his return, Dungy thanked the Colts organization for its support, and then he said, “My faith in Christ is what’s gotten me through this.”

Tony Dungy gave Jesus credit for putting together the shattered pieces of his life.  And so should we.

Jesus heals us, teaches us, loves us.  We may be just average folks, overlooked and unrecognized by the world.  But Jesus recognizes us and appreciates us. 

Jesus is forever looking for disenfranchised, devastated, and devalued people.  And when he sees them, as he saw the multitude in Galilee 2,000 years ago, he says, “I love these people!”

Last winter, R&B singer and songwriter, John Legend, received eight Grammy nominations for his hit song “Ordinary People”.  In the chorus of the song, he writes:

We’re just ordinary people;

We don’t know which way to go.

Cuz we’re ordinary people,

Maybe we should take it slow.”

We are the ordinary people who “don’t know which way to go.”  Without Jesus, we stumble slowly along, not of much use to ourselves or anybody else. 

Our prayer should be, Come now, Lord Jesus, teach us and heal us and love us and make us your glad and strong people.  Amen.



If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last modified  08/27/07