Today’s Gospel describes the return of the Twelve whom Jesus sent out on mission. After they return, Jesus suggests they go away to a deserted place to recover, reflect and pray. Time apart in a deserted place will help the Twelve to understand more fully the mission they now share with him.
So Jesus and his disciples set out across the Sea of Galilee by boat. But the plan fails spectacularly. Seeing the boat, people recognise who the passengers are and race around the lake to meet Jesus and the disciples when they reach land. Mark says that the people came “from every town” around the lake. This is his way of letting us know just how popular Jesus was.
Mark says that Jesus “took pity on them”. In Greek the text reads that “he was moved with compassion for them in his inward parts”. In the Hebrew way of associating feelings to parts of the body, compassion was always associated with the womb. In the case of men, it was the intestine. While that may seem strange to us, it means that when Jesus sees the people gathered, he has such compassion for them that he feels it in the pit of his stomach. It’s a really strong statement of the degree of feeling Jesus has for the people.
His reason for such a strong feeling is that the people “were like sheep without a shepherd”. This phrase is used in the Old Testament to describe the people of Israel whenever they suffered from failed or negligent leadership. But Jesus will not fail and he will not neglect God’s people. He will be the true shepherd.
The biblical phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” describes those suffering from ineffective or defective leadership. Pray for those in authority in our Church, that they will be the kind of leaders we need.
Care for people who were poor and oppressed was central to Jesus’ life and ministry. He identified with them. He was born in poverty in an obscure town of a colonised country. He mixed with those on the margins – sinners, prostitutes, sick people, outcasts – to stress that nobody was excluded from God’s love. He washed feet, a demeaning task reserved for servants and slaves. He died a failure. All Jesus said and did pointed to a new way of living in accord with God’s vision of a kingdom of justice, love and peace. To act justly is key to Jesus’ vision.
It’s unfortunate that Catholics and nonCatholics alike tend to be more familiar with what the Church teaches about sex than with what it teaches about social justice. But the Church has formulated a wonderful body of teaching on social justice, stretching back to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. This teaching embraces issues from workers’ rights to the dangers of unregulated capitalism, from care for the politically and economically oppressed to opposition to capital punishment. In 2015, Pope Francis published the first papal encyclical devoted to the environment, Laudato Si’, placing care for the earth as a central tenet of the Church’s mission.
The biblical emphasis on God’s care for the poor and for all creation is the basis for the Church’s focus on social issues and for its pro-life stance. In his letter Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis stresses the need to protect the unborn. He goes on to say: “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.” What Pope Francis is saying is that God’s justice and compassion extends from womb to tomb. Jesus ached with compassion for all who suffered. Following the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we also look with compassion on those who need our help.We seek to ease their burdens.
- The Church teaches that action for justice is a constitutive part of living the Gospel. It is integral to the Christian way of life.
- Sharing God’s vision, we confront injustice wherever we encounter it.
We defend those who are poor and voiceless. We always work for the good of all.
Visit (or FaceTime) someone who is sick this week, or in need of a kind word or support