As distinct from taking a life in a moment of unbridled passion or anger, to actively plot to murder someone reveals a stark, evil capacity lurking within a life that might on the surface look ordinary or even noble. To murder someone merely to protect one’s position or privilege or to silence a critic or one who knows a truth about oneself seems even more callous and cold blooded.
Yet sadly this is an age old pattern of behaviour and the judgement that one life is worth less than one’s own is a temptation to which men and women have surrendered over time and history. Thus we hear today that Jesus too lived in a world no less calculating and violent as we so often read about today in our own society and in those far beyond our shores.
We learn that the Pharisees are plotting against Jesus and Jesus’ response is to withdraw from both the place of danger and from a public profile. Nevertheless people seek him out and perhaps unaware of the danger to him, or perhaps unable to restrain their own needs, come to him seeking healing. In spite of the danger such a public role might entail Jesus responds to their needs and the only requirement he places upon them is a request that they not make his presence known.
Jesus balances his deep compassion and his instinct to help others with the very human predisposition for safety and self-preservation.
We get an insight into the inner world of Jesus in this text. In his use of the words of the prophet Isaiah we see Jesus placing images around his inner compassion – images that help us to understand its force and depth. For Jesus compassion is an uncontainable force within, moved by the very Spirit of God and oriented completely to the care of others. It flows out to heal, to cry out for justice, to support the broken and uphold the weak. It is a force that does not place burdens on people, but rather is exercised gently and often quietly. And perhaps most importantly, it not only brings healing in the present moment, but it brings hope for the future.
Like those in today’s gospel story and indeed like God’s people all through history, and imaged for us in the exodus story, we often find ourselves in deserted and isolated places where we do not have ‘food for the journey’ – a situation we can find ourselves in through illness, failed projects, social rejection or through our own selfishness. Such losses can leave us depleted and feeling a deep need for healing so that we might ‘enter’ into life in a more holistic way once again.
Thus the great power of hope. We need this powerful inner force all through the journey of life and in today’s gospel we see evidence to encourage us. No matter what the need, no matter how desperate feel and no matter how unprepared, he is ready to meet us and to heal us.
With such assurance, fuelled by hope, we know that we will be nourished and sustained for the journey, even for the journey though the valleys of darkness and violence that we see so often in our world. He is already there in its midst, and he awaits us with compassion and healing.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.