16th Sunday of the Year Reflection
Fr John Allen Green OFM – The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (MK 6:30-34)
“Give me Google search and I have all the answers that I need!” This exaggerated pride may give us facts and sometimes answers, but it cannot bring me to wisdom; wisdom on how to lead my life in relationship with others, with nature and with the world.
Perhaps this is the reason that so many of our youth between the ages of 15 and 19 are losing hope. The rising trend of youth suicide in this age group are among the one million people who take their own lives every year as we stagger towards one suicide every 20 seconds.
I Am in Control of My Destiny?
“I am no one’s sheep and I do not need anyone to shepherd me or to tell me how to live my life!” “I think and therefore I am” and I take control of my life and my destiny.
This fragile, brittle and empty illusion of control gags on the idea of being taught by anybody, even Jesus himself. Our scepticism and loss of faith in the once mighty political and financial institutions, now includes the very Church that Jesus is the Christ founded.
Notions of freedom and self-determination turn our human hearts away from the One who reveals Himself as the one who is the I AM, the source of all being before time began and after time will cease for each one of us.
Yet without this reference to the God who is transcendent; God who is both with us but also outside of time and space, it is not possible to reach into our own intrinsic human dignity and vocation into eternity.
St Francis used to recite the following prayer in 1205/6, when he would visit the small abandoned church of San Damiano, where there was a Byzantine Crucifix:
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord,
that I may carry out Your holy and true command. Amen
A World Without Reference to God is Lost
Without reference to God as the divine origin and purpose of the universe and all that is, there is something lacking in our understanding, in our judgements of how we should act in relationship with each other and the world. In the depths of our hearts a great unease and restlessness has taken hold; a disease that ultimately leads to hopelessness and death.
As Jesus the Christ continues to speak to us from the Church and as Jesus continues to walk in our streets, I believe he continues also to have compassion on our empty pursuits. As long as we continue to find our identity and our value in the things that are passing away, whether it be the glitzy glamour of idols or the science of extending youth and life, we have based our “I am” on shifting sands that will eventually wash away underneath our feet, leaving not a footprint behind.
How easy it is to lose ourselves in such empty endeavours. When the illusion fails us and all our control melts before the storm, the emptiness and longing that remain leads only to anxiety, fear and depression.
Jesus is Merciful to You, Yes You
If we remain caught up in our illusions, we are apt to dismiss today’s gospel as an “irrelevance!” However, the fact that ‘Jesus took pity on them … and set himself to teach them at some length’ contains a lesson for us that is of the first importance.
It is very easy to think of Jesus taking pity on those other people. Sinners, poor people, sick people, hungry people, people in mourning, paralytics, outcasts, people possessed by evil spirits: in each of these cases we can think of Jesus taking pity and then either doing something about it or teaching us about our duties of pity.
Jesus pitied sinners and forgave them; Jesus pitied the sick and healed them; Jesus pitied the widow and raised her son to life; Jesus had pity for outcasts and made them welcome at his table; and Jesus preached that we as disciples, should take pity on the hungry, the poor, and those who are suffering.
But the pity he shows today does not fit this pattern. Jesus takes pity on the whole people, rich and poor, healthy and sick, and the form that his pity takes is teaching. The idea that Jesus takes pity on people because they are like ‘sheep without a shepherd’, and the idea that teaching could be an expression of pity and mercy, are two ideas that are very alien to us.
God-Free = Happiness Free
Modern society tries to live in a God-free zone and make out that the divine is an optional extra, no more than a personal choice. While, at the same time, the ’body, mind, spirit’ shelves of bookshops groan under the number of books by lifestyle consultants that promise happiness by a mix of diets, mind-games, and ways of re-arranging the furniture in your home. The God-free zone is also a happiness-free zone.
We only become fully human when we recognise that there is more to life than the sum of the bits we can manage, the bits we can cope with, and the bits we can see. This recognition is rarely a blinding flash of understanding that there is a ‘God-shaped aperture’ in our existence, rather it is, more often than not, a painful discovery that we would almost be glad to avoid.
That little instant in which all our very fragile, brittle and empty illusion of control have tumbled into the abyss of chaos. Yet in this discovery we need also to appreciate the wisdom who teaches us; here lies the mission of Jesus the prophet and teacher.
Do We Have Teachable Hearts?
He teaches us to become aware of the deeper needs of our humanity: to see ourselves as God’s children and to work together to build the kingdom of God. Jesus both teaches us of our fundamental dependency on God, and of the love that God constantly offers us.
We as a community continue that teaching: not just transferring skills such as how to pray or how to help the poor, but teaching in the sense of bringing people to wisdom. This is the wisdom that knows that our lives are incomplete without acknowledging who we are as creatures within a God-given universe.
The people hurried after him, and he set about teaching them at length. Here is a hard question: are we willing to sit as students at the feet of Jesus and be taught at length?
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