Veronica Lawson rsm
27 June 2012
In every life, there is need for a balanced rhythm of work and re-creation. With so much pain and suffering in our world, the demands of the mission can overwhelm us and cause us to act as though everything depends on us. While we can never really escape the responsibility of being there for those in need, today’s gospel reminds us that there is a time for being out on mission and a time for being with the one who calls and sends us.
The apostles have been busy – preaching, healing, and driving out the demons as instructed. They now report back to Jesus with an account of their activities and are invited to take time to rest and recuperate. ‘Come away to a desert place all by yourselves and rest a while’ is the invitation that Jesus extends to them. Their rest is short-lived, for the crowds pursue them. Jesus’ response to the suffering of the people is a physical one: he is ‘moved with compassion’. The Greek verb suggests a ‘gut’ reaction in Jesus: he is physically affected in the depths of his being by the plight of the people, who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ and is ready to do something about it. As the narrative unfolds, we find Jesus inviting his disciples to accept responsibility for relieving the hunger of God’s people in the desert of life. ‘You give them something to eat’ is his instruction to those who would turn the people away.
Like the Israelites of old, afflicted humanity in any age needs good leaders or ‘shepherds’ who will ‘practise justice and righteousness in the land’, as the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah reminds us. The Hebrew word for justice, translated ‘honesty’ in our lectionary, refers to justice in the law courts. The word for righteousness, translated ‘integrity’, is about right relationship at every level. The Markan Jesus demonstrates for his disciples and for us what justice and righteousness mean.
As the gospel story continues, we find that Jesus’ disciples are well-meaning but slow to learn. They are a bit like us in that. The more we take time to reflect, however, the more likely we are to respond with the compassionate heart of the good shepherd, and the more likely we are to achieve lasting justice and right relationship in a world of unconscionable disparities.