Today’s Gospel: Mark 6:34-44
“When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them.”
The gospel today is a window into the very heart of Jesus. Jesus is moved with pity for so many people who are “like sheep without a shepherd.” Pity is compassion or sorrow at the misfortune of others. This emotion is at the heart of Jesus’ earthly existence, as we just celebrated at Christmas: he came to us in the incarnation, taking flesh through the holy maiden, Mary, so that he could be with us, share our sorrows and the many needs and limitations of this life. The greatest joy of our faith is that God became human out of compassion, to lift us out of all sin, misery and sorrow.
In this gospel it is enlightening and consoling to see that Jesus takes action out of this compassion he is feeling: he teaches and feeds the people. This demonstrates that “the crowd,” that is, all of us, suffer from two kinds of needs, the need for spiritual food and the need for material food. When we speak of spiritual food, it refers to the deep need within every human person to know: What is the meaning of my existence? Do I matter in the great scheme of things? What is the highest good and how can I find it? These questions are all summed up in one desire, the desire to know and love the One who created us.
When Jesus teaches the crowd, he is meeting their spiritual needs by teaching them of the living God, a loving Father who has a purpose for their lives and who invites them to enter the wonder and joy of the Kingdom of God, a here-and-now reality, not a far-away dream. But Jesus also has compassion on the physical needs of the crowd. When the disciples tell him the day is late and he should send the people away to buy food for themselves, he challenges them, “Give them some food yourselves.” His compassionate heart does not want to send them away weak and unfed. Furthermore, the Lord also insists that his followers learn to share in his compassion and respond to the needs of others.
This gospel inspires gratitude, as the Lord’s care for each of us is unmistakable. It also compels us to respond when we see people in need. Motherhood is a training ground for this. We would never send our children away to find food someplace else!
As we listen to the words of Jesus today, “give them some food yourselves,” let us ask the Lord to enlarge our hearts so that we may better love our families and also extend our love out like a growing circle of influence, spreading like rings on a pond, to touch many with the compassion of Jesus. And may we also teach our children well to be compassionate towards others. In a culture where success is measured in one’s ability to get ahead of the pack, it is truly counter-cultural to teach our children to think of the needs of others and respond with compassion. Let us then, cultivate this virtue which the Lord exhibited in his earthly life.
How can you give gratitude to God today? In what ways can your expression of gratitude also be an expression of compassion for someone else?
Lord, open my heart to see and respond to the spiritual and physical needs of those around me today. Jesus, compassionate heart of the Father’s love, make my heart more like your own. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Julie Paavola