Today’s readings: Jeremiah 23, 1-6; Ephesians 2, 13-18; Mark 6, 30-34.
Today’s reading from Mark marks the beginning of the second part of this gospel. In the first part, Jesus remains in his own environment facing the difficult queries coming from his own people as regards his true identity and his credentials.
Now he moves on metaphorically and realistically towards uncovering not only his identity but also the true purpose of his mission.
In today’s short reading, with the apostles reporting back to him all they had done and taught, talk about the Church’s mission in time is sort of stepped up. It is a gospel message suitable for today’s Church which pastorally speaking may really be in a state of alienation and confusion. We need to prioritise in pastoral work and in pastoral care, perhaps putting care before cure.
There is so much that we do and that exhausts resources and energy that instead we would do better without. And yet there is so much that should be on our plate and which for lack of priorities we just omit. The gospel says: “There were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat”. But Jesus does not give in to the immediate needs; his foresight takes him much further to deeper needs.
Ernst Troeltsch, a German Protestant theologian and philosopher of religion, said something like the gospel is always being forwarded on to a new address because the culture to which it is addressed is constantly moving.
Pastoral care will continue to pay attention to the great unchangeables of human existence. Yet we cannot ignore that the issues today are being hugely reshaped and that we cannot remedy for today’s pain and grief with yesterday’s tools.
The fact that in the face of hectic activity, Jesus proposes retiring “to a lonely place where they could be by themselves” in no way implies neglecting people’s needs on his part.
The Church today, particularly in a pastoral setting like ours, needs to rewind and be more focused. We cannot afford providing the first-aid station without having the foresight to prevent the casualties in the first place.
Even reading Jeremiah today in the first reading, he does not seem to be a figure of the past at all. His words on the religious and political situation of his time are words of doom. But as someone might say, it is almost as if we might run into him on a street corner.
At the time of Jeremiah, world politics had underwent a real change with the fall of imperial powers like Assyria and Egypt. Jeremiah addresses a situation of general uncertainty, lack of leadership, and incompetency in both the political and religious scenarios.
To top it all, religion in such a situation was the opiate of the people, putting up a false façade pretending to make believe that all was well and that the band could play on.
In the face of all this, Jeremiah had a prophetic vocation. He needed foresight and the courage to speak up against all odds. He felt the tragic situation of the nation and acknowledged the absurdity of official religion which failed to go to the roots of problems.
This was also what made Jesus “take pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”.
In the gospel, Jesus is in line with this prophetic tradition, instructing the apostles to have foresight and grasp the profound needs of people.
The Church, throughout time, has lost touch with this tradition and is today called upon to recover it and again find its way. Jesus was concerned with the long-haul rather than the quick fix.
We are living in an incredibly urgent time that can reveal itself as a great spiritual awakening. But to get through with the message, a completely alternate model is required.
This is not the time for evolution. Our alienating problem is the defence of the old façade. That needs to be uncovered in order to have the foresight and the courage to call a spade a spade.