The Sunday Gospel
Fr Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.
I will always remember the first time I had to preach to a Sunday Mass congregation. All the prayers at Mass were then in Latin which very few understood, and the priest had his back to the people most of the time. I turned around to face the people for the sermon. The Gospel reading (Mark 6:30-34) was the one we have today. What struck me most was where Jesus looked with compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length. Was this for me an inkling of what my future should be like, looking at people with compassion and guiding them with the light of God’s word? Fifty-five years later I think I wouldn’t get great marks in compassion but I’d be happy enough in sharing God’s word. That’s enough about me.
Come away and rest a little
Last Sunday our Gospel was about Jesus sending out the apostles in pairs for their first experience of preaching and healing. It was a great success. Obviously, they were over the moon with excitement, thrilled at the success of all they had done and taught. They could not wait for their next mission. How surprised they must have been when Jesus, instead of sending them out, did the exact opposite. They were so busy that they scarcely had time to eat. “You must come away to some lonely place by yourselves and rest a little.” There must be a balance between activity and restfulness, between involvement with people and being alone.
There are two ways of being alone: loneliness or solitude. Loneliness is the empty way of being alone: it is an emptiness which cries out for friendship. Solitude, on the other hand, creates a space for growth, for development in creativity and serenity. Above all, solitude creates more space for God in our lives – “Be still and know that I am God.”
Near restful waters he leads me
The responsorial psalm today is the beautiful shepherd-psalm. I love the image of the restful waters. In the land of the Bible, sheep pastured on the rocky mountainsides, allowing the fertile lowlands for crops and vines. In contrast to other animals, sheep need very little water. Apparently, they cannot drink from the swiftly flowing water of the mountain streams, so the shepherd has to find a still pool or create one with a dam of stones.
The flowing water is an image of our busy time. Although God is everywhere, we find it hard to drink of the divine presence if the pace is hectic. We need the pool of still time, the quiet corner, the period of solitude. It is there that our drooping spirit is revived. Unless we regularly come apart, we run the risk of being torn apart.
He guides me along the right path
It sometimes happens that our best made plans go astray. When Jesus and his disciples reached the place intended for their quiet retreat, they found the area packed with people seeking Jesus. Being a man of deep peace, he was not upset when his plan had to be changed. When he looked at the people, he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length. Once more he was fulfilling the role of the good shepherd. “He guides me along the right path, he is true to his name.” The time we come apart, our moments of solitude offer the ideal space for listening to the guidance of God’s word in sacred scripture. What is Jesus saying to me? Is he consoling me, challenging me, directing my way or instructing me? Many false shepherds are leading people down the wrong road today. The good shepherd is the true guide. He is the way, the truth and the life.
They had no time even to eat
Life is hectic and loud today. We ask ourselves where has the week gone? It’s July already, half the year has gone! The pace, pressure, productivity and profitability of business leave very little time for family, friends, fantasy and leisure. When busy-ness takes over, even recreation is called a work-out. And a work-out it is for the walker or jogger who is bossed by the stop-watch and every step is counted by the odometer. Is there space for the mind to listen to the chirping of a bird, to catch the scent of a hidden flower, to hear the gurgling of a stream or to be startled by a shaft of sunlight through the trees. Leisurely exercise feeds all the senses. I thank you, Lord, for the wonders of all your creation.
Little things can mean a lot, like having a meal with others instead of a snack alone. Sitting at a table instead of standing at a counter, using a teapot instead of bag-in-cup, placing a saucer under a cup.
What the world needs most of all are people of vision, contemplatives and people of true holiness to restore the big picture of life.
“They were like sheep without a shepherd, so he set himself to teach them at some length.”
Be still and know that I am God.
Give yourself the gift of time and space where you can listen to God.
Gaze at the face of Jesus as he looks at us with compassion.
Allow yourself to be loved by God.