Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21
Mark’s Gospel has a real tender side which we can be appreciated if it is read slowly. Just to sit with some of the images Mark uses can be pretty profound. Mark says that Jesus saw the crowd. Mark is telling us what Jesus sees. That alone is quite special. When Jesus looks at the crowd he sees them with his heart. He is not looking at them with his eyes. He is not seeing a bunch of people physically wandering around lost. But he is describing a bigger situation.
Jesus’ image of these people was that they were like sheep without a shepherd. Because of this, Jesus’ heart goes out to the people of the crowd. Sheep without a shepherd means he saw people who were psychically, emotionally and spiritually lost. Lost sheep tend to scatter all over the place. Lost sheep can be quick to follow anyone or anything. Lost sheep, I suspect, feel quite insecure. And Jesus’ heart goes out to them.
I don’t know whether Jesus entertained the question of what has caused them to be lost? Perhaps no one has accepted the responsibility to take care of them. Would that not be a judgment back onto the religious leaders of the time? Are those religious leaders taking care of their sheep? Are they neglecting their sheep? If they were taking care of them, then they wouldn’t be so lost. Jesus sees the need, names and proclaims it, and then he steps in and does something about the situation.
Is this different than any experience we’ve all had? I suspect all of us have been in situations of need. And when something needs to be done, we have several choices. Sometimes we can ignore it and hope that it goes away. Other times, we roll up our sleeves, step in and do something about the situation. And hopefully, we do this because it is the right thing to do, or it is a loving act of service. If we do it for personal gain or monetary value, we certainly have missed the point. When we look at the history of the Church, many of the men and women who have seen needs of the human family have stepped in and risen to the occasion. They literally have rolled up their sleeves and sacrificed. Why? Out of their love of Christ, they choose to lovingly enter into a situation. Many of those in the Liturgical Calendar have stepped into difficult situations in caring ways to bring promise, justice, or hope to lost sheep. The two biggest examples of this in Church history of course are the vast number of schools
and hospitals which were founded for the needs of desperate people.
For Jesus this isn’t merely a one-time occurrence. This is the pattern of his life. This is his job description. Mark will go on to add how Jesus’ heart is filled with pity for the people. It is this sense of compassion which I truly believe is the divine energy of Christ. And this compassionate energy has the ability to do miracles. It doesn’t disappear at the ascension. It is still with us and is manifested in those who choose to see it and act with it.
The scene in the last chapter of John’s gospel between Jesus and Peter continues on this theme. Jesus knows that someone has to continue looking after the sheep. "Peter do you love me?," Jesus will ask. And then Jesus will commission Peter to keep doing what Jesus himself has been doing, "Feed my sheep."
A couple of weekends ago we had a really powerful weekend retreat. The retreat group allowed themselves to be the mystical body of Christ. This group empowered one another with the gifts and talents each had. There was a tremendous amount of love and mutual respect. And in the time we spent together, I found it so beautiful how the body of Christ did what Christ does; it brought restoration, healing and empowerment to others. Quite profoundly, there was the Lord feeding his sheep.
Lastly, in the first reading of the day, the letter to Hebrews speaks also about leadership. He says it is the responsibility of the leaders to keep watch over the flock. And this should be done with great joy, not burdening others. I know Lent is still a few weeks away, but perhaps it could be a good Lenten practice to allow ourselves to "See" a little bit better with the eyes of Jesus.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.