Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea, Tissot c.1890, Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd…. Mark 6:34.
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Mark tells us, essentially, that Jesus and his disciples were exhausted, with no time even to eat! So Jesus himself suggested that they find a quiet spot to rest and recover, so they all climbed into a boat to find a “deserted place”. Alas, no. Word spread very quickly and they were greeted instead by a large crowd when they arrived, rather than birds quietly tweeting and leaves rustling. Now, if that were me arriving with the disciples, I really suspect my heart would also be moved, but not with pity, as was the Lord’s. It would be something very different: starving hungry, wiped out and longing for peace and quiet. No, it would not be pity. Jesus saw something else; he saw need, a greater hunger, people longing for something way beyond a picnic; he saw spiritual starvation. And Jesus came to serve, and so he did. He taught them “many things”.
Today’s readings talk about division, enmity, evil deeds. One problem Scripture has is about the division between the Hebrew people and the Gentiles. Over the centuries, God had chosen the Hebrews as special. To them only was the nature of God slowly revealed. Through the prophets, and through various wonders, God had shown divine qualities which were to be embodied, ultimately, in the person of His Son, Jesus. These can all summed up in one word: Love. There was no longer to be any division between peoples, between families, between individuals. We are to look on everyone else as our brothers and sisters, even if that is difficult to take. When Jesus saw the crowd, instead of a deserted place now packed with people, he immediately saw need. They wanted to hear him, to take in the peace and reconciliation he offered, the establishment of a new world, one of acceptance and community, and they had come a long way to hear it. He saw the people as “sheep without a shepherd”. In that leaderless situation, sheep can get into untold hazards and difficulties. The are basically prey to any marauders. And we all know who the chief marauder is…
The image of the shepherd is dominant in the first reading. God fulminates, I think you could say, against those who claim to be shepherds, but who, in fact, scatter their sheep. Wolves are good at scattering sheep, isolating them, then picking them off one by one, then killing them. They offer death, not life. Our God is the God of life, and stands up against anyone who contradicts that reality. The reading continues with a promise that “the days are coming” when one will appear who is wise, strong, the “Lord our justice”.
All this comes to pass in the second reading. Here was the one who would gather all people together, Hebrews and Gentiles all. There would no more division, no more hundreds of involved and complicated rules (it is said that there were 613 rules everyone had to obey to be righteous in the eyes of God), so that it was the person of Jesus who embodied the union of the two peoples “thus establishing peace”. All this, perhaps, passed through Jesus’ mind when he saw the shepherdless people waiting for his words of peace and reconciliation. Clearly, he saw this as a crying need to be addressed at once, and so he did. There is no mention of his apostles’ reactions to all this; I suspect any memory of that was quietly suppressed, possibly as unprintable… But they too must have learned the lesson to distinguish between needs. The greater need must always be the first addressed, and that is probably not one’s own needs, but others.
Jesus: The Good Shepherd, Franciscan Media.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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