“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 6:30–34:
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.
After traveling for a while, especially on a lengthy sojourn, people usually want to do two things: rest, and recount the stories of the adventure. When we came back from Rome in 2011, we couldn’t wait to get to our house and settle back in, especially given the long times spent in airports on that trip. Our family picked us up, and we also wanted to have them stay so we could pass out the souvenirs and tell everyone where we’d bought them, show a few pictures. Mostly, though, we wanted the fellowship of loved ones while we took our rest from a long trip — and we were only gone a little over a week.
In today’s Gospel reading, we see something similar, although on a more profound scale. The Twelve had gone out in pairs to spread the Good News to the nation of Israel, perhaps contesting with hostile communities, perhaps encountering hearts opened to the Word, but likely a mixture of both. Undoubtedly, they had been gone a good while; in Mark’s narrative, the execution of John the Baptist takes place during their first mission to Israel. Their journeys would have been filled with stories of conversions, rebukes, and perhaps even the kind of tales most travelers tell after venturing out into unknown lands.
When they return, Jesus gathers them together to hear their tales, and brings them to a place of rest. Jesus wishes to allow for the natural fellowship of loved ones to lift their spirits while they gather their strength. However, as soon as they arrive in a secluded place to enjoy each other’s company and recover from their travels, the people of the area arrive. They also are hungry — hungry for the Good News, hungry to learn of their fellowship with the Lord, and as we’ll see immediately after this passage, just plain hungry.
Instead of pushing them away and asking for rest for His disciples, Jesus takes pity on the large crowd and begins to teach. This goes on for hours, until it becomes apparent that a crisis will arise in getting such a large crowd fed. Even though the disciples had just returned from their lengthy travels and needed rest, Jesus directs them back into service, and performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes through them and their renewed fellowship.
The disciples might have been too exhausted to think about the first reading from Jeremiah 23:1-6 during this time, but it speaks to Jesus’ decision to serve the crowd that gathered, as it does in similar passages.
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.
In a sense, Jesus does both in Mark’s Gospel reading today. He gathers the men who will be shepherds appointed for the flock, and then He gathers the flock for their service. Jeremiah warned the “shepherds” of his time that the Lord would scatter them just as they had scattered His flock from His word, and provide “a righteous shoot to David” to appoint new shepherds. Fear and trembling would cease, replaced by a king who “shall reign and govern wisely.”
When I read this Gospel for the first time, another parallel came to mind. The disciples return to Jesus and “report all they had done and taught.” When we return to Jesus at the end of our travels, will we not do the same? Jesus will already know these stories and actions, but that probably won’t stop us from wanting to share them anyway. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t tire from telling my favorite stories among friends, unless my wife reminds me that I’ve told it before.) We will look forward to the rest, but also to sharing ourselves with the Lord.
However, we may not quite be done, just as the disciples discovered when they returned to Galilee. We sometimes speak of the church militant and church triumphant, of the Body of Christ on Earth and in heaven. The communion of saints transcend death, as the saints live within the love of God outside of our perception of time and space. We learn their stories to strengthen us on our journey, and we ask them to pray for us just as we would ask our friends in this life to do the same. In that sense, we are still wandering in the wilderness, looking for the Good News, and those in the church triumphant serve us by preparing the meal of faith which will sustain us. The disciples of Christ remain as our shepherds, so that His numbers shall increase and multiply, and that we may no longer fear and tremble.
We will want to rest with the Lord and our loved ones who have gone before to tell our stories of mission in this world. Should we not ensure that we have stories to tell?
The front page image is The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament (~1508), a fresco by Raphael in the Vatican Museum, from my own collection. Here is a larger version of this photograph (click to expand):