What is it about Jesus that is so attractive? We hear today in the gospel reading that Jesus is trying to get his disciples to come to a quiet reflective place, yet more and more people are coming in great numbers and they had no opportunity even to eat. Earlier in this sixth chapter, Jesus had previously sent his disciples out with the instructions to expel many demons, anoint the sick with oil, and work many cures.
So in today’s gospel, they return to Jesus and report back their activities and their teachings. It must’ve been a highly successful campaign. Mark’s gospel depicts this teaching and healing ministry as getting exceptionally ramped up. His disciples had now been initiated into this ministry and had first-hand experience as to the working of God’s spirit. As they return back to Jesus it leads even more people into the circle. Jesus and the disciples try to find some breathing space by getting into a boat, pulling out, and heading to a new destination. But the people on foot seem to have gotten there first. As the boat pulls up, the mass of humanity is gathered, awaiting the master’s arrival. This can only lead to something great. Mark says Jesus pitied them for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus’ compassion has now mixed with human need. You can feel the excitement and energy escalate. Something phenomenal is about to happen. And it will, but that is not part of today’s Gospel. Take some time to pray today with the sixth chapter of Mark.
Those gathered in pursuit of the master on that day certainly recognized something different about this person Jesus. Sometimes I wonder and question the historical numbers. How big were the crowds who gathered there, pressing in upon Jesus and his disciples on that day? Yet over the years, as we look at the last 2000 years, haven’t the crowds escalated exponentially over what was there at the Sea of Galilee on that memorable day? We are talking about people who see something in Jesus and continue to flock around him to hear his words and to be touched by the power of his healing spirit. Many of these are changed eternally. And most of the stories have never been written down. Sadly most of them have been forgotten over time.
Yet, occasionally there are those whose stories are remembered for centuries into the future. And future children will be named for these remarkable people. Agatha of Sicily is precisely one of the forever remembered. We aren’t sure if she was born in Catania or Palermo. The trivial details have long been forgotten. What is remembered is her single-heartedness. She was certainly one who looked into the eyes of Jesus and feasted on his words. What has been passed down and written about is how highly she was venerated in Christian antiquity. She was put to death during the persecution of Decius for her unwavering belief in God.
From her very early years, Agatha dedicated her life to God as a consecrated virgin. She desired to give herself totally to Jesus and the Church in a life of prayer and service. A high diplomat named Quintianus thought he could get her to turn away from her vow to God and force her to marry him. Polite proposals escalated to harassment, arrests, imprisonment, and hideous torture. Through all of it, Agatha continued her simple prayer of single-heartedness to Christ. Even the prayer attributed to her death was a single-heart devotion. “Lord, my Creator, you have ever protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul.”
And that gift returns to us. Gazing, pondering, praying and resting in the goodness of the teacher and master. What is it about Jesus that you find so attractive? Going back to today’s gospel, let yourself be waiting on the shore as the boat comes in. Why are you there? What is the hope in your heart?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.