1 John 4:7-10
Have you ever seen Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son? One of the remarkable details of the painting is that the father seems to be blind. And so to see his son he doesn’t try to look at him with the eyes of his head. Instead he holds the son’s head close to his heart. I’ve noticed that there are different ways that people see. Some see only with their mind. Others have the ability to see a little deeper. Frequently it’s that motherly love, which can hear and listen at the level of the human heart, which a child responds to most authentically.
Our retreat theme this year at Christ the King is based on opening the eyes of our heart. And one of the graces I am continually blessed to see on retreat weekends is how the totality of the person grows and expands simply over the course of 40 hours. When people begin seeing with the eyes of their hearts, their ability to love and extend compassion is immensely multiplied.
When I look at the gospel today, before jumping too quickly to the miracle of the event, I think we must start by seeing the energy and motivation which flows through Jesus. I don’t mean to downplay Mark’s testimony of the feeding of the five thousand. I simply think we need to highlight this divine energy and motivation which Jesus capitalizes on. In the first line of today’s gospel Jesus "sees" the crowds. He obviously didn’t see them only with the eyes of his mind, because Mark’s next phrase is an emotional reaction and outreach towards the people. Mark says that Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them. Jesus sees them with the eyes of his heart. Now interestingly, this is one of the few places we can know
what is going on in Jesus’ mind. Mark tells us that an image comes to Jesus and that is the image of sheep without a shepherd. I think all of us have had at different times in our lives, images come to our minds. And sometimes, the image is so profound it speaks to depth of your vision and begins to tell you who you are. Specifically in this case—yes, Jesus, you are the shepherd. And so Jesus does what a shepherd does, he tends his sheep. This is why we see in John’s Gospel, when he can’t do it anymore, he tells Peter to "feed my lambs, and tend my sheep" (John 21:15-16).
Jesus is the manifestation of the Father. And the divine energy at play here is that of compassion. When he invites his disciples to give the crowd something to eat, their response is not one of compassion but of the practicality of the situation. They simply revert back to what they see with their minds and the result is not something which build faith as much as it is something which scatters doubt.
Perhaps instead of naming this gospel, "Jesus feeds five thousand" a better title could be, "The disciples receive another lesson on seeing with the eyes of Jesus and responding with the compassion of the Father". Again and again I’ve been amazed at the miracles of healing parents have through that divine energy of love and compassion. I’ve watched parents literally will or lift the pain which their child carries out of their child and carry it themselves. And it is merely the miracle of compassion. I’ve seen walls which took years of anger and hate to build so sturdy and solid simply crumble under a moment of compassion and grace.
Today, as I hold this gospel, I see it not as historical story which demonstrates how Jesus had authority over fish and loaves as much as a spiritual lesson of life that is frequently played out in our present world. I suspect you know this in your own experience.
I invite you today to reflect a little on your experiences of compassion. What miracles happened because of this grace? Do you find yourself having any more compassion since the celebration of the birth of Jesus, or even Epiphany?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.