“Life is always a triumph of the improbable and a miracle of the unexpected.”
– Henri de Lubac
Making a decision is never easy.
But it is even harder when we have to decide between two good things. Choosing which has priority is not always clear-cut. Feelings of guilt are always just around the corner and the fear of making the wrong choice lies in wait.
Jesus too finds Himself before this conflict between two good things. On the one hand there is the promise He made to the Apostles to spend some time with them, to listen to their stories after He sent them out to announce the Good News, to take a little time to rest. On the other hand, the people that follow Him wish to listen to Him teach, weary people, people who don’t know where else to go.
Whatever He does, someone will be disappointed. In the moment, the apostles might have been unhappy, perhaps there would be grumbling, there might even be feelings of neglect or deception. Disappointment might have set in among the Twelve. But on the other hand, what would have happened had Jesus ignored the vast crowd that was looking for Him?
There are two situations that call on Jesus’ attention and so He must discern. There isn’t much time. Often times we too find that we must make a decision under pressure.
In the Gospel text there is key word that becomes the criteria for Jesus’ decision:
He felt compassion or, in another translation, His heart was moved with pity. This term refers to a visceral feeling, a deep feeling the moves within us. It means that Jesus did not make a reckless decision, but rather He listened to his heart. He feels that in that moment the priority is to reach out to these people. The apostles are called to wait. In fact, this experience of waiting becomes a formative one for them, because they better learn Jesus’ criteria: what comes first, what is most important.
Jesus finds Himself before an anonymous crowd that appears not even as a herd but as a conglomeration of lost sheep: they were like sheep without a shepherd. It is that part of humanity that no one takes care of and who don’t know where else to go. But even the sheep that supposedly have a shepherd are continually exposed to the voracity of the wolves.
These are the people that Jesus has before Him, but they are also the people that we meet every day. Sometimes however our pastoral projects and our plans become the priority; when faced with the disorderly needs of others, we can be more likely to push on with our own plans.
Jesus has the person freedom to interrupt what He is doing. He has the courage to disappoint, the strength to postpone, when something more important appears.
What do these desperate and wandering people need? It is striking to me that Jesus’ answer to this disorderly crowd is to teach them.
This too makes me reflect on our pastoral projects: what do the people truly want? What is their deepest need? This passage makes me reflect on the efficacy of the path of knowledge, of the formation of consciences, of the courageous proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus is not afraid to face these tired and haggard people because there are words that encourage, that refresh, there is a message that gives hope!
Our pastoral programs pale in comparison to this attitude from Jesus. Many times they seem like the plans of a recreational club rather than of the disciples of Christ. But sometimes the fireworks have to effect of covering for our lack of true content. The festivities help to fill in for our lack of courage to pronounce like Christ the words of the Good News. But Jesus teaches!
Questions for personal reflection:
- What criteria do you use when you must make a decision?
- Are you capable of making decisions even when you know you will disappoint someone?
The Gospel According to Mark (6:30-34).
The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.