Whatever happened to all those people?
In today’s Gospel, St. Mark goes out of his way to tell us that there were an awful lot of people who wanted to be with Jesus. He tells us that “a large number of people” from Galilee came, as did a large number from Judea, as did a large number from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan River, from Tyre and Sidon. People were traveling from north, south, east and west, streaming to hear Jesus, to be with Jesus to touch Jesus.
In our imagination we can see the constant stream of people gathering from all directions to be with Jesus. And, Jesus was a bit intimidated by the huge numbers because he asked his friends to have a boat ready to give him an escape route so “they would not crush him.” And this wasn’t the only time great crowds came to Jesus. There were the 5000 fed on the hillside, the 7000 fed with 7 loaves and 2 fish, and don’t forget the crowds lining the road into Jerusalem who were singing hosanna and laying palms down in front to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. Great popularity and adulation! But, whatever happened to all those people?
We know they receded back into the countryside when the religious and political leaders began to demonize Jesus. They were nowhere to be seen when Jesus went through his Passion and Death. But when everything settled down again and the disciples continued to talk about Jesus and witness to His resurrection did many of these people return to their initial interest and become followers of Jesus once again? It would not be a surprise to find out that some (many?) of them did. From Pentecost on the number of followers of Jesus grew rapidly. No doubt some of the people who were frightened off came back.
Being a Catholic follower of Jesus can be a difficult thing even today. Sometimes we’re very fervent but there are other times when our hearts can grow distant. The disapproval of our neighbors or our society, the scandals that happen in our Church, the experiences of personal disappointment, disillusionment, hurt or anger can all cause us to pull back from our faith, to recede back into the countryside. The beautiful truth about Jesus is that though crowds of people came and went, Jesus stayed faithful to all of them. Jesus stays faithful to us as well. Perhaps our prayer today can be to ask the Holy Spirit to grace us with the desire to stay close to Jesus, even in difficult times.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.