A New Way of Loving
In this beautiful homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly shows us the heart of Jesus’ message has to do with only one thing, and that is a new way of loving, where we are to create a world where people feel, once and for ever, at one with each other, at one with God, at one with the world.
First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:13-18
Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
This is one of the shortest Gospels that is on record and, naturally, it comes from St Mark.
Did you know that if you went home now and you opened up the Bible and you paged until you got to St Mark’s Gospel and you timed yourself, you would begin at a quarter to one and you would read it out loud and you’d read it quickly but you’d read it with fullness (you have to have a quiet place to do this) and before 45 minutes was over, you’d have read the whole of St Mark’s Gospel. That’s how short it is.
We hear Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but Mark is the one who founded Gospels. His Gospel comes first, and Matthew and Luke copy — much of their own Gospels, they copied them from Mark.
I like Mark, because tradition would have it that Mark was only a young man when Jesus was preaching and teaching, and there’s a part in the Gospel according to Mark where Jesus gets arrested and everybody ran, and there was one young boy, Mark says, and he ran, too, but they grabbed hold of his cloak and what he did was he ran right out of his cloak and ran home naked. And everybody feels that that’s Mark’s signature. It’s kind of a nice signature.
They say his mother and father, also, were the ones who were living in Jerusalem at the time and that, perhaps, it was in their home that the Last Supper took place. All these are quite interesting biographies. But today we have Mark.
Now remember we are at the beginning of Jesus’ work among the people.
John the Baptist has been destroyed. He’s been killed by Herod and his head was sent to Herodias, his enemy. But everybody who knew John knew that they pointed to Jesus, for John himself, it was he who said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” when Jesus was passing.
And his own disciples were faithful and true to him right to the very end, and even a little later, but they knew that what John had pointed out was he had come to point out that this is the Messiah, the long-awaited Messiah who would change the destiny of the whole world.
Anyhow, today’s Gospel begins. It’s quite short. The Apostles were gathered together with Jesus, and Jesus was teaching them and preaching to them and telling them… But we don’t know what the material was, just that he was doing this.
This is very interesting, because Mark never tells you what Jesus preached about. Very rarely will he say, “Jesus said this, that and the other thing.” He will set up a kind of a situation and he will then try to let you guess what it has in the meaning of understanding Jesus and understanding the role of Mark’s Gospel.
He taught… You listened to the Gospel last week, and you know that Jesus was telling them to go forth now and begin the salvation of the whole world.
Now, these are just twelve little fishermen, or maybe one or two are not fisherman, but very illiterate kind of people. And Jesus was sending them out on their own up into Galilee to preach the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the new world and all of this.
And he sent them two by two. I think he sent them two by two, because if he sent them one by one, nobody would have come back. It would need two by two. You know how when you need to reassure each other, you go out two by two.
And they went out, two by two, and in today’s Gospel they come back.
What are they supposed to do?
They’re not supposed to have any money. They’re not supposed to have two sets of clothes. They’re not even allowed to have a walking stick. In fact, they have nothing except themselves. And this is the beginning of changing the world.
This is incredible when we think how we would do it, the way we would organise it. Now just think if this parish decided that we were going to begin the organisation of the coming of the Messiah to the whole world. Well, we, first of all, would take a big collection trying to get as much money as possible, get the smartest people, make sure they were theologically sound etc, etc, etc, because these are the people that were going to build the new world, you see.
And Jesus just takes everything away, including their two sets of clothes. So simple.
What is Mark trying to say?
Think of that for the rest of the week. What is Mark trying to say?
Maybe we’re too conscious of, let’s say, sending people through higher education so they might understand the meaning of the Messiah, or that we would be able to finance this whole project that was going to save the world.
Logical, isn’t it?
But this is not the way of God. That’s why we love God. God is poor, God is needy, God is vulnerable. This is a God that we’re a little bit frightened of.
We like that one way up in heaven, judging whether or not the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad and they’ll go to hell.
This is not the God of Jesus. This is a God we made up out of our own fears maybe or looking for some kind of security.
Because all that Jesus is and has is nothing. “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” The Son of Man, meaning the Messiah, has no place to lay his head.
Anyhow, the disciples go off and what they’re told is, “Go into the homes of the people and tell them what you have seen.”
And Jesus, we don’t know where he went, but he’s not going with them. The leader is not going with them, just these…
The more you think about it, the more you wonder about it.
But you don’t wonder for too long, because they come back and, instead of being frightened and terrified, they’re really happy. They had a wonderful time. They’d gone in to these people. Total strangers took them in. They stayed for a couple of weeks, two by two, into each of these homes. They met no resistance. They met great hope. And they came back and they couldn’t wait to tell Jesus, which is the beginning of today’s Gospel.
The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
And then Jesus, was so happy to see them all back.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
They’re going on retreat. You know how we go on retreats, get away from the work for a while, begin to restore your energy, restore your abilities and be together.
And, of course, Jesus would be there to teach them and preach to them and tell them all the things that they must do on their next journey, etc. And that’s the way it’s planned. It’s a good plan that Jesus himself supports: go to a quiet, deserted place.
So they hop in the boat and they’re crossing the Sea of Galilee.
But the Sea of Galilee where they hopped in the boat in Capharnaum, the beach runs on land all the way around the Sea of Galilee at that point. So a couple of the smart people who were anxious to go with them, because they wanted to be cured, they had lots of things on their mind and they wanted to discuss them, so what they did was they ran around on the shoreline all the way around to the other side.
So when Jesus and the boat and the disciples landed, what did they find?
Five thousand people waiting, just waiting.
Now you would think that Jesus would be quite angry, because we would be if we were going on a retreat and suddenly all this rag tag group of people are screaming and yelling and they want to be served. And we’d say, “Well, later, or next week, or Tuesday afternoon at 3 o’clock I’ll be there, whatever you need I’ll give you.”
But Jesus looks at them and he feels terrible, he feels sad for them. He has sympathy for them, because they’re like sheep without a shepherd, as he says.
And so what do they do?
Well, there goes the retreat. There goes the resting time. Everything is gone.
And Jesus says, “They want us to take care of them. We will take care of them.” And that’s what he does.
And they all sit around on the grass, all five thousand, and Jesus begins to teach and to preach and to be with them.
And, of course, I’m sure we’d all like to know what he said and how he went about it and did he take notes that we could use them in our own efforts to teach and preach and all of that.
But nothing was written, because Mark doesn’t think it’s important, what Jesus said.
That seems odd, doesn’t it? But if he thought it was important, what Jesus said, he would have written it.
But what he was saying was something entirely different.
We preach by being with each other. That’s how we preach.
We don’t preach doctrine. If we really want to convince somebody we love to become one with us in this wonderful family, this new family of God, we’re not looking for agendas, we’re not looking for wonderful creatures that are going to raise us up.
What we’re looking for is friendship. We’re looking to sit down with people who are having as many difficulties as we are having.
And it is Jesus, the presence of Jesus, that draws them out of their fears and makes them, slowly and gradually, a people talking to each other in this empty deserted place on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
Now, we know that the heart of Jesus’ message, it is not dogma, it is not learning. It has nothing to do with mastering a new way of life. It has to do with only one thing and that is a new way of loving.
And what is the new way of loving?
It is not what Jesus tells us to do or wants us to do.
The new way of loving is: love me, be with me, walk with me, sleep with me. I will be here, not only now, not only next week, but I will be here all days, even to the consummation of the world.
I am here that you might learn, yes, but not learn from books. You must learn from each other. You must learn from your kindness to each other, your care for each other, your love for each other. You’re not supposed to pile up a library. You’re supposed to create a world where people feel, once and for ever, at one with each other, at one with God, at one with the world.
And this is the heart. And that is why Jesus does not preach as much in Mark, but he dies on a cross, because dying on a cross is the ultimate sacrifice of giving your whole life to what you believe in.
And from that time on, the cross, instead of becoming a hated object of destruction of the worst of people, the cross becomes the new way to a new life, a life of love, a life with God and a life with each other.
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.
Perhaps the best lessons we learn from Mark are that, yes, reading is important, yes, understanding with our head is very important. All the things that we do to forward in liturgies, in books, in schools, these are all good things and things we should continue to do.
But we must remember, if you’re not learning to love, stay out of the game. This sounds cruel, but if you’re not learning to love, you’ll never understand it and you might twist it.
The other thing you must understand is this: this is only a place for sinners. Jesus did not die for anyone except sinners. You have to be a sinner.
What is a sinner?
I was once told to sin is never to love. It’s a lack of love and reaching out and caring.
So what are we?
We are the forgiven sinners. And we are forgiven each day not just once. And we are here to learn out of humility, out of caring for other people, out of coming together with hope, God’s hope, with faith, God’s faith, and with love, the love of God for all of us.
And so people go on and on and on. We say how many Christians do you have this year, and how many this and that. These are all numbers on a board.
What is going on is what Jesus says, “I will never leave you. I will be with you all days, even to the consummation of the whole world.”
And that is the one truth that we follow: to walk with him wherever he takes us, to live with him in the way that he lives, and to learn to love with him in the way that he loves. And that is our life.
To be a disciple means to follow a master, but our master is the humble little carpenter’s son from Nazareth who has changed the whole world.