22 Jul 2012
“His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34) In the name …
I stopped by to see Fr. Sen. Joe on Thursday. He was actually down in his kitchen rather than up in his bedroom, and that’s a good sign, not a great sign, but a good sign. I’ve told you in the past how he had to be taken by ambulance to get x-rays at the hospital because he could not make it down the stairs of the rectory. A few people who know Fr. Joe happened to be driving by the church as all of this was happening. He thought he had heard from everyone who was worried, but some people in town maybe didn’t know Fr. Joe well enough to give a call and ask how he was. Well, one thing led to another, and since Fr. Joe has basically been locked in his house since before Memorial Day, the rumour got back to him that he had died. He hadn’t been seen for a couple of months and there was the story of the ambulance, and then some people put all of that together and came up with the conclusion that Fr. Joe was dead.
Paraphrasing the words of Mark Twain however: “The reports of his death are greatly exaggerated.” Fr. Joe would love to be out doing the stuff he normally does as pastor and priest, but he still has a few more weeks of mandatory rest. It’s mandatory because you have all heard me tell you about his two subsequent falls when he tried to act as if he hadn’t smashed his kneecap to smithereens. But I think Fr. Joe should take the premature reports of his death as a compliment. It says that people are used to seeing him around – whether it be in town, around the church, feeding the hungry, that kind of stuff. And that ties in with today’s Gospel reading.
Last Sunday we spoke about Jesus sending the Twelve off on their own, and without much of any provisions for their journeys as they began to do the work of church. Today we hear of their return. Jesus had wanted to take them away to some quiet place so that they all could rest because as Mark tells us today: “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.” (6:31) So Jesus and just the Twelve, no one else, just that tight-knit inner circle of teacher and disciples, went off in a boat by themselves to a deserted place. (6:32) But people followed, crowds were already gathered when Jesus and the Twelve disembarked from their boat. This is summer vacation season. Put yourselves in the shoes of Jesus and His disciples by imagining your long-planned and long-awaited vacation is disrupted by some unexpected event. Something comes up at work, something comes up in the family, and all of a sudden your plans for rest and recreation go up in smoke and are replaced by pressing and urgent concerns. It’s not hard to transfer our feelings in such a situation to Jesus and His disciples. I think we know exactly how these 13 men felt when they first pulled up to shore and saw the crowds.
We’re never told exactly how the disciples respond because Mark focuses-in only on Jesus. Mark sees this unexpected event as one of the defining moments in the life and ministry of Jesus so the others disappear from view. Mark senses, as do we, what the natural, human response would be to this situation, and this makes Jesus’ response that much more revealing. An exhausted Jesus anticipating a time of quiet refreshment, says Mark, sees the crowd and His gut-reaction is not resentment. It’s pity. He sees that in their desperation they have also traveled far, not for quiet, but for Jesus. They too must have been exhausted. But they must have craved Jesus’ word, His touch, His presence even more. They were, says Mark, “like sheep without a shepherd.” (6:34) And standing their on the shore of the lake, with all of their needs and hopes clear as day on their faces, Jesus doesn’t act with resentment that they have stolen His quiet time away from Him, Jesus acts with mercy. Mark sees this simple and unexpected encounter as defining who our Saviour is, and I hope we can too.
Nothing is more important to Jesus than us. And us is not only the inner circle of Jesus’ church. Everyone is important to Christ. There is no rock solid, high wall separating an us and a them in Jesus’ world. We’re all us. You know in a world where us and them is everywhere, it’s inspiring to see what Mark saw, that Jesus instinctively cares for everyone. I was shocked, for example, to hear the report about the Penn State football scandal and Coach Sandusky. The distinction between us and them was so strong that they tolerated horrible acts rather than scandalize the program, the us, even if it meant tolerating criminally destructive actions to them. And this us and them plays out destructively in politics, business, families, neighbourhoods and so many other places too. We’re surrounded by images of violence, of us vs. them. It’s fantasy on the movie screen, but there’s so much of it, that we’re not really surprised when in happens in real life, like it did in Colorado at the Batman movie.
We don’t need more of it in church. People should hear the gospel message of Jesus’ instinctive compassion more often. This is the message that we should be proclaiming from the rooftops – or at least on FCAT and the world-wide-web. This is the message about Jesus that gives strength and hope to people in uncertain times. Someone was half-joking with me this past week during the hottest day of our recent heat wave that the Bible foretells the end of the world by fire, and that maybe I could use that to draw more people in to our worship. But we don’t need to add to people’s everyday concerns a gospel message of judgment and damnation, that if you’re not an us then you’re one of the lost them. Jesus wasn’t scary. Mark saw this in that reflexive and instinctive reaction of Jesus to the people on the shore. Our Saviour is defined by compassion. Let that be our message: Not the us and the them of so much of our world, but instead the willingness to be compassionate of Jesus’ world.
May we find as much inspiration in this tiny story of Jesus as did Mark, may it open our eyes to who Jesus is just like it did for the Evangelist. And may it help us to preach in word and in what we do, that ours is a compassionate God. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo