HOMILY for the 16th Sunday per annum (B)
Today’s short Gospel passage seems to be setting the scene for the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus goes to a lonely place, a wilderness, and just as God fed his people in the desert with manna, so there in the wilderness Jesus will miraculously feed his people with bread, fore-shadowing the heavenly manna that is his Eucharist. But before this ‘liturgy the Eucharist’, so to speak, Jesus celebrates a ‘liturgy of the Word’ because the people who flock to him in the desert are fed, first of all, with his words, his teaching.
But, of course, this is more than just a scene-setting passage. Because it reveals something about Jesus’ person, about how he is both God and Man, and how he is full of compassion. In the first instance, Jesus’ apostles have just returned from their mission, which we heard about in last Sunday’s Gospel. They’ve been preaching, exorcising, and healing many people, and now they’ve returned to the Lord. And Christ, knowing that they must be tired, invites them to come away on retreat with him: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while”. Rest is so essential for us; indeed, it humanizes us, for only machines can work without rest. Hence we human beings are called by the Lord to come away with him once a week and “rest a while”. And this Sabbath rest is essential because it builds our relationship with God and one another, it makes us human again. And the beauty of God’s Sabbath rest is that even though God doesn’t need to rest, he, too, stops from his work and rests because he desires to be with us, to allow us to encounter him in the quiet and stillness, and to strengthen us with his love. That is the compassion of God: to give us rest, and to be with us in our resting.
But when the crowds follow Christ, we read that he moved with compassion. Quite literally, the Greek says that Jesus was moved to his guts. There’s something very visceral about Jesus’ reaction when he sees that people need him and come to him. And this, again, says something beautiful about Christ, and about his true humanity. For Jesus is moved with deep emotions, cares profoundly, and he feels compassion for us in the pits of his stomach, in his own incarnate Body. Unlike the pagan gods who cared little for humanity, unmoved by our human plight, ours is a God who cares so much that he becomes Man, and then feels our pains and needs in the depths of his own body.
And it is Jesus’ response that shows his divinity, because it is a response of pure Love. Because a mere human being, if he were tired out and wearied, would have shown disappointment or impatience that the people had followed him. All of us need some time alone, to recharge, as it were, especially if we have been working so hard that we do not even have “leisure” to eat, as the Gospel says of the apostles and Christ. The evangelist doesn’t tell us how the apostles reacted when they sailed off to their lonely place, and then saw the crowds on the shore waiting for them. One senses, maybe, just a little irritation in their words: “This is a lonely place, and the hour is now late; send them away…” And like many of us, they rationalize why the people should be sent away. But the Lord doesn’t do this, he just responds with this deep emotion that doesn’t seem to count the cost. Jesus has a divine patience and compassion: he will not send his people away because they need him, they have come to him. And so, he responds by giving everything he has beginning with himself. Hence the Word made flesh gives first his word to the people, and then, his own flesh in the form of bread. This is the compassion of God in action, and it is actualized again and again for us in the Mass.
So, we come here each Sunday to come away and rest a while with our God. Here, he rests with us. But because he is God, who is pure Act, he is also always acting for our greater good, acting for our healing, our restoration, and our salvation. He is here, comforting us with his presence, leading us with his word, and shepherding us with his teaching. In today’s psalm we read that the Lord is our shepherd, leading us to green pastures where he gives us rest and refreshes us. So, the Lord has led us here to this beautiful restful church, a garden church surrounded by green pastures. And it is here that he is with us, feeding us with his Word and Sacrament each Sunday, and day by day too.
If we are tired from our daily chores, from the stress of family life, studies, jobs, from the worries and troubles of our modern world and its many pressures, or even from our holidays, then the Lord invites us to “come away by yourselves to a lonely place” – to this place – “and rest a while”.
But I think, too, that, maybe, there are also many of us who are already in a lonely place. For there are many who may feel alone, isolated, friend-less. We might feel isolated by sin and guilt, isolated by ill health or circumstance, or just alone in the world, a little lost and left without resources in a wilderness, like “sheep without a shepherd”. And yet, we need not feel so alone. For in that lonely place, too; in the desolation of our lives, God is there. He has gone to the lonely place so that he be with us, and bring us rest. So, let us always go to him with our needs, our desperation, fears, and our worries. For, as we see in today’s Gospel, he simply cannot refuse those who come to him in need. He doesn’t turn us away, but he listens, he teaches, and he strengthens us with his own self.
Hence he waits for us in the tabernacle, dwelling in our midst, here in this quiet place, this lonely place. And he is resting here for us, he is God-with-us, waiting to give us rest and his consoling peace. For, as St Paul says: “he preached peace to you who are far off and peace to those who were near”. So, whether we are near or far, let us not hesitate to “come away”, to find our Sabbath rest, and so, to “rest a while” with our God, the good shepherd, who is full of compassion, and who loves us with a tender, gut-wrenching, mercy.
- lawrenceop posted this