Well here we are nearly at the end of July and for us here in Ireland the summer break is almost at the half way mark. We are looking forward to the World Meeting of Families in at the end of August to be held in Dublin and we also look forward to the visit of Pope Francis as part of this event.
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday we hear the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The crowd is huge can you imagine five thousand people and all of them are hungry: for physical food in a deserted place and hungry for still more. They are hungry to be acknowledged, to feel counted and recognized. Like those of us gathered for Eucharist each Sunday, they are also hungry for what Jesus had to say about God. They hunger to know that God is on their side, when the rest of the world considers them insignificant. How can their physical hungers be fed, there is no food around? How can their spiritual and human hungers be noticed, their need to feel important, and their hunger to know God be filled? In their Roman- occupied world they are slaves. In their religious world, a long way from the seat of their faith in Jerusalem and the religious elite, these Galileans were considered next to pagans;
ignorant and a long way from God when in truth they were nearer to God than many of the righteous people of the day. There is some food there, but almost nothing in the light of the numbers who are hungry. In this story the food of the poor barley bread counts and it is not an insignificant gift. It’s given by a boy, it’s all he has, and he makes it available.We tend to measure the size of any problem that may arise and then back away, shrugging our shoulders, “What can I do about such a big problem?” Well we in simple terms have to face the problems head on and the boy in this Gospel is a good example for us: better to do something about the situation we are in than nothing at all. The life implication of this gospel is simple: Jesus wants to work the miracle of feeding a huge number of people who are hungry; but the miracle will not happen without someone to provide five barley loaves and two fish. The end of this passage is important: “and all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces”. Jesus asked the disciples to ensure that nothing was wasted: nothing thrown out!
The people in this story realize that Jesus had something to offer them in the deserted and lonely places in their lives. Jesus wasn’t just filling their stomachs he was also nourishing their souls. They weren’t rich, famous, educated or powerful; they were the afflicted and marginalized people that Jesus went out of his way to seek out. Life may have passed them by, but Jesus didn’t. He took note of them, and they in turn saw in him a place to be nourished, a place where deep hungers and longings of life would be fulfilled. The Gospel account of the multiplication of the loaves proclaims who Jesus is and provides food for thought and prayer. This Gospel also proclaims who we are as people who are hungry for what Jesus the bread of life has to say to us about God. Are we prepared to open our ears and listen to the message of Jesus in the Gospel so that we can pass that message on in what we say and do in our lives ?
This Sunday in our Gospel story we listen to Jesus as he tells the apostles ‘You must come away all by yourselves and rest for a while’. He first planned to give his Apostles a well-earned rest. They had evidently worked hard while out on their mission and a few days rest would restore their lost energy. He himself, too, must have been hard pressed, preaching and dealing with the crowds. In the absence of the Apostles he had no one to help him he too needed a rest. He, therefore, planned that he and they should go to a quiet corner of the Sea of Galilee where there was no village and where they would not be disturbed. As we all know sometimes the best laid plans go astray as the people got to the quiet spot first. He could have sent them away, but again his human compassion took over. Seeing these simple people of Galilee so anxious to hear about God and his mercy, he let them stay and began to preach the good news of forgiveness and hope to them.
Jesus cares for us and all those needing rest and spiritual nourishment as he did his apostles and crowd in our Gospel story for this Sunday! We have only to listen to Jesus speaking within our hearts to hear where we will find him. In addition to that blessing, we all know someone in our midst who mirrors the Lord’s unselfish care for others. Often we are the recipient of that care and attention. We might take those people for granted whether they be in our family, community, work place or parish. The widespread problems of so many are symptoms of deep unsatisfied longings to be loved and to love. Can we be a little more caring towards the lost and lonely people we know? And will we let Jesus say to us: ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me? Jesus has clearly identified himself with people in physical, emotional and spiritual need. To meet them is to meet him especially these days where so many have little or almost nothing and the few have so much.
Jesus has the answers to our questions; and they all come down to living a life deeply in harmony with God. And he not only tells us but shows us the way. He talks the talk but he also walks the walk. And his walk takes him eventually to Jerusalem and up the hill to Golgotha where he gave his life for us. And he invites us to walk with him; to walk with him as we listen to his teaching and experience his healing ministry, and then to walk with him on that last journey to the Cross to suffer and die and rise to new life with him. No wonder they wanted to hear more. So the call to us this weekend is that we should come apart and rest for a while and as we rest we should recharge our spiritual batteries as we look for and listen to Jesus.
This Sundays Gospel sees Jesus going back to his roots in Nazareth. This is not a social visit: like other towns in Galilee, Nazareth and its people have to hear the Good News of the kingdom. When Jesus teaches in the local synagogue, many of the townspeople are astonished at the performance. They wonder at the origin of Jesus’ teaching and the nature of his wisdom, as well as the miracles that are done through him. From the unanswered questions about Jesus’ wisdom, the neighbours move to more familiar territory and focus on what they do know about Jesus. Whatever their wonder, they are not going to allow the wisdom of Jesus to interfere with their memories of him. Prior to this section in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been doing some extraordinary things. His baptism by John in the river Jordan was accompanied by an affirming voice of the Father from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.”
After his desert testing Jesus called his first disciples, cured the man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit and the paralytic in Capernaum; expelled the legion of devils from the Gerasene man, you may remember last week in our Gospel Reading Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, cured the woman with hemorrhage, Jesus is doing wonderful things as he proclaims, in word and deed, the coming of the reign of God. Though he did all the wonderful things the people still had little faith which also seems to be the case these days. The people wanted the powerful signs of God’s final coming with a strong right arm to rescue them. But when Jesus spoke about the signs of the kingdom’s presence, he spoke of scattered seeds and, to emphasize the kingdoms small beginnings, he compared it to a mustard seed, “the smallest of all of the seeds of the earth” Where was God’s show of power and mighty arm in a tiny mustard seed? Mark sums up their reaction, “And they took offence at him.”
And so it is today as many take offence at the values of Christianity and the good it makes for all of us in our world. A world which in many respects is so faithless with many people taking offense at Jesus and his teaching. Jesus revealed God’s presence to the people of Nazareth as a different kind of power: the power used only to help others, not ourselves; a gentle power that does not force or coerce people to do our will; the power of compassion and gentleness, when others are expecting force. All of us know from our own experience that when we admit our failures and limitations, that exercise in honesty can mark the beginning of a new understanding. If our Lord and God can take failure in his stride, we might even end up boasting about God’s fantastic message! What is the message of the wisdom of Jesus? Jesus message is really about using whatever power that we might have in a positive way to help others and the greater our weakness the more powerful we will be that is powerful with the power of compassion and gentleness.
As I was sitting at my computer a thought came into my mind about the last line from the second reading from the Feast of St. John the Baptist. The message of the second reading is that the message of salvation is meant for us when Paul said ‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you.’ Well in our world these days it seems to me that many people know about the message of salvation and have made the choice to ignore it. But many others myself included have stopped to listen to the message of salvation and ask what does it mean for us in our daily lives and living and how do we make that message real for all those we know? Many people here in Ireland have been left with a feeling of hopelessness after the vote on Abortion and all the other things that challenge us as people of faith as we look forward to the visit of Pope Francis.
But that said I also think of Pope John Paul when he said in his homily during the inauguration Mass at the start of his ministry as pope at St Peters in October 1978 Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. This wee paragraph taken directly from the Homily of the late Pope have stuck in my mind for over 40 years and for many of my generation these few words do not be afraid were and continue to be a guiding light. There are many things that I certainly do not understand in relation to all that is going on around and about me at this time but I know that the hand of God is in most of the comings and goings. Now to get back to the message of salvation being for us.
If we are true heralds of the message of salvation we wont let our own self seeking attitudes and cares crowd in and blot out the message of God with all its richness that we as Christians are supposed to show.Are we prepared to open the doors of our hearts to let the guiding light of Christ shine from us and be the heralds of the message of salvation that Saint Paul talks about. As we go forward we shouldn’t be afraid as we Open wide the doors of our hearts and minds for Christ as we let the light of salvation shine in our own lives so that those around us will see that Christ lives in us and be inspired by our example to live the faith that the message of salvation brings. Ireland has been changing over a long period of time but with the Abortion referendum result it has been confirmed that Ireland has completely changed with its people taking a view on abortion that would have been unheard of 30 years ago. But when we stop and think about it we realise that God is still here and is saying to us I haven’t gone away you know and the message of salvation is still there as well. So as we think about the message of salvation we shouldn’t get too disheartened with all that is going on for those who love God nothing is impossible.
Loving God, you shared your Word with us as a light in our darkness. May we be open to the mystery of life that surround us in so many ways. Help us to recognise Jesus the Light of the world in our own inner poverty and reach out courageously to share our light the light of faith with others. We make our prayer in the wonder of your love.