(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Last week, we listened as Jesus sends the twelve out with only staff and sandals. He invites them to share in Jesus' own mission to build--with word and actions--the Kingdom of God here on earth. In the Gospel for this Sunday, the apostles return to Jesus, telling him about their adventures.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
What is the mood here? We can picture the apostles gathering around Jesus full of stories. They have proclaimed repentance, they have cast out demons, they have cured the sick! They have so much to tell--who gets to speak first? We wonder if they talk over each other in their enthusiasm and their excitement. They must be so thrilled--both to have been part of Jesus' own mission and to see Jesus again.
Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
The only words of Jesus that St. Mark records in this passage are very clear. He invites the apostles to come away with him. "A deserted place" calls to mind the desert where Jesus goes after his Baptism and the places where Jesus goes to pray--times when Jesus is by himself with God. Jesus is suggesting (strongly) that the apostles need time apart from everything else to be alone with him. They need to rest.
We are being shown something important here. We know that, just like the apostles, we are called to be sent. In Baptism we are anointed and given a share of Jesus' own mission to build the Kingdom of God with words and actions. In Confirmation, we are given the gifts and strength we need to accomplish this, each in our own particular, unique, and perhaps quirky way. The Gospel passage for this Sunday, though, shows us clearly that it is also important to gather again around Jesus. We find a deserted place by ourselves, we tell him our stories, we rest awhile with him. This is prayer. Jesus suggests (strongly) that it is necessary.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
What is the mood here? When these people see Jesus, what is it that they recognize? What happens inside of them? Something causes them to leave what they are doing and run on ahead to get to the deserted place before the boat. Imagine wanting to see Jesus that badly. Imagine running so as to get to prayer before Jesus arrives!
As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
If this had been anyone else, we would be surprised by Jesus' reaction. Here Jesus is, wanting to create time apart for his apostles who need to rest and recharge, but this crowd shows up! The place is no longer deserted! It is no longer a quiet place of rest. We would expect anyone else to be exasperated and angry because plans have been thwarted, because desire has not been fulfilled. Instead, though, Jesus has compassion.
Jesus sees through any annoyance of thwarted plans to the "something" that causes the people to hurry to this deserted place. He does not value his own desire more highly than the need of the people. He knows the need of the apostles, but at the same time, he also sees the need of the people. And this need of theirs makes Jesus feel compassion.
The word for compassion in Greek is "esplanchnisthē." It means "to be moved in the inward parts." It means that Jesus' guts are churning when he sees their need. Something happens inside of him. Jesus feels the need of the people deep in his guts and he acts. He lays aside his thwarted plan, he puts aside his own desire, and answers the need of the people. He begins to teach them.
Again, we are being shown something important here. Compassion is more than simply feeling sorry for someone. It is feeling someone else's situation deep inside, and then allowing that feeling to propel us into action. Compassion is a springboard from feeling to action.
From time to time as we live our lives, we will find our plans thwarted. We will find that our own desires, no matter how strong, cannot always be valued more highly than someone else's need. We will feel someone else's need deep inside and it will propel us into action.
Can we trust a feeling in our guts? If we are to allow compassion to propel us into action, it is important that we do not forget the first piece of information that we are given in this Gospel reading: the necessity for prayer, for time alone with God. Throughout the Gospels, we hear about Jesus spending time alone with God, seeking out the deserted places. Because of prayer, Jesus is firmly rooted in the plan of God. Because of prayer, Jesus can trust his guts. Because of prayer, God's will is done.
Prayer and compassion. Together these lead to the building of the Kingdom.