As you begin preparation for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection July 22 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.
Photos: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD (Sister Kathleen Murphy, photographer)
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.
The gospel text from last week described Jesus sending the Twelve out, entrusting them with his authority over unclean spirits, and exhorting them to preach repentance. The text concluded with a statement that they had been very successful. “The Twelve drove out many demons and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6:13)
In the verses between last Sunday’s gospel and this week’s text, Mark reports that Jesus’ reputation is spreading. Even King Herod has now learned of him. People are speculating whether Jesus might be Elijah raised from the dead. Herod himself believes that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life. Then in the next 12 verses Mark reports in some detail how Herod had John the Baptist arrested and beheaded. Having described King Herod at his worst, Mark then turns our attention back to Jesus. In the gospel text for this week, Jesus receives his apostles as they return from their mission, and then he receives the crowd who pursued them even into deserted places. This sets the scene for next week’s gospel in which Mark reports the feeding of the crowd.
This is the only place in Mark’s gospel where the disciples are called apostles. The Greek word that is used here emphasizes the relationship between the one sending and the one being sent. The one being sent is sent as a representative of the one doing the sending. The only authority that the sent person has is that of the sender. Given this type of relationship, it would be expected that when those who have been sent return, they would give a report to the sender. In the opening verse of our gospel, Mark states simply that the apostles reported back to Jesus all that they had taught and done in his name.
Jesus invited the disciples to escape with him to a deserted place. At the time of Jesus, 90 percent of the people lived in small hamlets of 50 to 150 persons. The people who formed these small communities were often relatives through numerous lines of relationships. In the economic structures of the day, these same few people were the source for everything that was needed for survival. Privacy between people in these communities was nonexistent. The going and coming of people from other areas was noticed by everyone. The travelers might bring something special, or they might bring some threat to the community, and they might also bring news from the world beyond the small community.
The return of the Twelve from distant places would be an occasion for suspicion, curiosity, and hope of news from distant lands. Mark states that so many people were coming and going that Jesus and the disciples did not even have an opportunity to eat. The reality may have been that they could not eat with so many guests. In this culture it would have been unthinkable to eat and not invite guests to join you. (Mark 6:31b) Those who were aware of the return of the Twelve were also aware of their needing rest. Travel was difficult. Yet the people followed Jesus and the disciples anyway.
If the return of the disciples was a cause for the local people to seek them out, their attempted escape to a deserted place would add another layer to the townspeople’s curiosity. The areas between villages and hamlets were dangerous, they were regions of chaos. It would have been extraordinary that Jesus and the disciples would desire to escape into this area of chaos. The fact that so many people who avoided these places their entire lives were willing to set out into the chaos to see what Jesus and the disciples were doing is a window into the depth of their desire to know.
The image of the people of Israel being like sheep without a shepherd appears several times in the Hebrew Scriptures. This image would have been familiar to Mark’s community. Moses prayed that Yahweh would send a new leader for the people so that they would not be like sheep without a shepherd (Nm 27:12). Ezekiel 34:1-31 uses the image to describe the people of Israel, when those who had been entrusted with the care of the people instead used the people and their possessions for their own benefit. The characterization of the people as being like sheep without a shepherd and Jesus beginning to teach them would have been seen as a criticism of the Jewish leadership who abandoned the common people and left them hungry for guidance.
1. What is your experience of spending significant time with extended family?
2. When you think of being able to visit with people who have traveled to places that you think of as dangerous, you find yourself …
3. If you were to imagine your house being so filled with extended family members going and coming that there was not time to eat, you would …
4. What comes to mind when you think of a deserted place?
5. Imagine you are among the disciples and Jesus suggests that you join him in escaping to a quieter place. What is going through your mind as you hear Jesus’ invitation?
6. When you consider Jesus like this with enough concern to make time and space for the people from the towns and for the disciples, what do you find arising within you?
7. The gospel describes people of the region who are willing to leave their homes and seek out Jesus. When I think of these people I find myself …
8. Can you talk with God about your desire to seek out Jesus, or about his desire to be present to both the people of the village and the disciples, or about some other awareness that arose within you as you prayed with this gospel?