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Mark describes the situation in great detail. Jesus sets out in the boat with his disciples towards a quiet and out-of-the-way place. He wants to listen to them calmly, since they have returned tired after their first evangelizing foray and they’re wanting to share their experience with the Prophet who sent them.
Jesus’ plan gets frustrated. The people discover his intention and get there before him by running along the shore. When Jesus and his disciples arrive at the place, they find a crowd that has come from all the surrounding villages. How will Jesus react?
Mark graphically describes his actions: the disciples have to learn how they should treat the people; in the Christian communities it must be remembered how Jesus was with those people lost in anonymity, those whom no one is concerned about. «As he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length».
The first thing that the Gospel writer notes is Jesus’ gaze. He doesn’t get irritated that his plans have been interrupted. He lets his gaze linger on them and he’s moved within. Never does he get annoyed at the people. His heart senses the disorientation and the abandonment in which the villagers find themselves.
In the Church we need to learn to gaze at the people as Jesus did: catching on to the suffering, the loneliness, the confusion or the isolation that many suffer. Compassion doesn’t spring from paying attention to norms or remembering our duties. It awakens in us when we look attentively at those who suffer.
From that way of seeing, Jesus discovers the deepest needs of those people: they go about «like sheep without a shepherd». The teaching they get from the teachers of the Law doesn’t offer them the nourishment they need. They live without anyone truly caring for them. They have no shepherd to guide and defend them.
Moved by compassion, Jesus «set himself to teach them at some length». Calmly, unhurriedly, he patiently sets out to teach them the Good News of God. He doesn’t do it because of obligation. He’s not thinking of himself. He communicates the Word of God to them, moved by the need that they have for a shepherd.
We can’t remain indifferent in the face of so many people who, within our Christian communities, go about seeking a more solid food than what they’re getting. We shouldn’t accept as normal the religious disorientation within the Church. We need to react lucidly and responsibly. Quite a few Christians seek to be better fed. We need shepherds who share with them the message of Jesus.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf