There is a joke about pastor’s care for the soul. A young pastor was contacted by the local funeral director to hold a grave side committal service at a small local cemetery for someone with no family or friends. The pastor started early but quickly got himself lost, making several wrong turns. He arrived a half-hour late, the hearse was nowhere in site, and the workmen were eating lunch. The pastor went to the open grave and found the vault lid already in place. Taking out his book, he read the service. As he was returning to his car, he overheard one of the workmen say: “Maybe we’d better tell him it’s a septic tank.”
I have heard it said that “mental health begins with serving others and mental illness begins with serving ourselves.” In our first reading the prophet Jeremiah pronounces a word of doom on the shepherds of Israel because instead of serving others they were more interested in serving themselves. Jeremiah was referring the kings. God promises through Jeremiah that he will send them someone who will reign as true king and be wise, and that of course refers to Jesus coming as Messiah who was generous instead of selfish like many Old Testament kings, who served others instead of himself.
Last weeks’ gospel we heard Jesus sending the twelve disciples into the mission. They set off to preach repentance; and ‘they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them” Mk 6:13. In today’s gospel we hear: The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”. For there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat.”
But when they came ashore there was a large crowd waiting for them. Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for those people who were “sheep without a shepherd.” Here we see Jesus doing the opposite to the Old Testament kings who mostly only looked after themselves. Jesus looked after the disciples by taking them to a quiet place for a rest and then when he was besieged there by people looking for him, he looked after them by teaching them at length.
Reflecting on this gospel passage what can we learn from Jesus?
A lot of people grumble saying, “I have no time”. Hurry and worry these are the characteristics of our time. People have no time to be with one’s own family, no time to be with children, no time for Sunday Mass and daily prayers, no time to give love to someone who is in need, not to be with the sick, no time to be with the elderly, no time for the neighbors; busy, busy, all time busy no time even to rest. It’s mainly because hurry and worry fills most of our lives. To all such people Jesus gives a loving invitation: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”.
But remember Jesus did not tell the disciples: ‘Okay, Guys! You are now tired, go and have some rest and come’, but rather “You must come and rest a while”. That means Jesus invites them to be with him. Only he can give us the rest we need. To be with Jesus means is to be with, in the alms of a loving mother. “Come to me all who are weary, I will give you rest”. If we all learn to rest in Jesus daily, surely we will receive the reward of eternal rest in heaven.
Nothing is more important to God than compassion. Compassion is at the very heart of the Gospel. Jesus shows this clearly today in our gospel selection. For though he is tired and wants to get away from everyone, when he sees the vast crowd, he has compassion on them. In his full humanity he knows their need, their poverty, their confusion. So he puts his agenda aside and ministers to them.
Jesus calls every one of us to be a person of compassion. We must be able to feel deeply the suffering of others, to understand why they fear and tremble. There are very many people searching for truth today, people hungering for instruction, people who are looking for direction. They may be parents who are sick with grief over the future of a troubled child; a man stripped of his dignity by unemployment; a woman facing a pregnancy alone; elderly people who feel the diminishing surge of life in their bodies; people who are angry and confused because they have lost confidence in their leaders, whether political or religious. They are people who are looking for answers and for meaning. They are like sheep without a shepherd. They all need you and me filled with the spirit of Christ the “Good Shepherd.”
The challenge that comes to us today from the Gospel is to let compassion be a part of the choices we make every day. In doing so we will not only be following the example of Jesus; we will also be making a choice that is the best choice for our own good.