16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B.
Readings: Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Ps. 23; Ephesians 2: 13-18; Mark 6, 30-34
Today’s short Gospel text is drawn around two scenes. The first is shrouded in silence and solitude:
Sunday homily: Jesus and his disciples left behind the shouting of the crowd, the animation of the city of Capernaum and other centers of the lake of Tiberias to retire to one of the many valleys or plateaus or hills. It should be noted that the expression “a deserted place” is repeated twice to underline the atmosphere Mark wants to create. The disciples have just returned from their first public mission; now Jesus wants to offer them not only a little rest but above all he almost wants to insert them into a horizon of intimacy, dialogue, and peace. Using a later Christian language, we could say that Christ prepares a spiritual rite for the apostles that he himself would like to preach and guide.
This law of silence becomes not only a psychological necessity but a fundamental requirement of the spirit. Traversed and crossed as we are by the continuous flows of words, sounds, emotions, bombarded by most fascinating and ruthless images, we slowly do not realize that we no longer master who we are, or the mystery of our being. At certain times of the year, especially during holidays, many leave their cities, like great Carmelites saints in search of a “lonely place, on the sidelines” to encounter God in silence and solitude, for Silence according to Saint Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem “is the way to foster Holiness”. But we must be very careful here, for there is in fact, an empty silence that has nothing to offer and says nothing and is fruit of the deformation that we carry within ourselves, the one that forces us to constant chatter, trouble, banality, and superficiality. But the silence of which today’s Gospel speaks is dense, full of revelation, full of nuances, as is said, “in love silence is more eloquent than word.”
There is, however, a second scene in the Gospel passage. Jesus and the disciples knew that silence is like a food that must nourish an existence. Once taken, it must make one stronger and more ready to walk. Here, in fact, the crowd appears on the horizon, that is, everyday life with its problems, with its urgencies, or its bitterness. The portrait of Jesus that stands out in this small picture is beautiful. He must renounce having a wider space of intimacy and solitude because he sees the tears of the men and women who seek him, hears their complaints, senses the inner emptiness that they experience precisely because they have no shepherds who know how to illumine, support, and guide them. And then he “moves”, he lets himself be enveloped again by the embrace of the crowd, which is a dispersed and exploited flock, as was said in a very hard passage of the prophet Ezekiel (Ch. 34) and as Jesus himself will repeat against false shepherds and merchandise (Jn 10).
Certainly, soon this crowd will be given bread to satisfy their physical hunger. Before then, however, Jesus begins “to teach many things” because the first bread, the most necessary for man, is the one that satisfies the spirit, that calms that inner emptiness, that which gives meaning and flavor to life. Even before the bread, Jesus offers his Word. It is precisely in this hierarchy of values that the commitment of Christianity is constituted. He first announces the Kingdom of God and its justice and then inserts himself into the world and its structures to correct and infuse them with a new spirit. Both dimensions are necessary and interdependent:
Jesus prays and heals, he is alone; but also with the crowd, he preaches and offers bread, he is one with the Father and one with us, he proclaims the Kingdom and denounces injustices. What can we make of all these? A purely “social” religion dissolves into a political movement, whereas a purely intimate faith is a denial of the incarnation. It is necessary to strike a balance, it is necessary that both trajectories intertwine in the heart of the faithful, in the awareness that the divine transforms and exalts the human. We cannot be people of great faith without hearts that show mercy, that love and care.
Fr. Jude Chijioke