Interruptions to our Plans
In this beautiful homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly shows that when preaching the love of God “we have to lay aside many of our plans because something more important is here, and that is people in need, people in need of being reached out to, accepted, cared for.”
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
It’s a very short gospel. Remember now, we’re in Mark, and the lovely thing about Mark is he leaves you asking yourself questions all the time. I’ll give you an example now.
This is Jesus with his disciples. The disciples had been sent out, maybe a few weeks before, to the towns and villages, to teach them about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is near, the Kingdom of God is here, the Kingdom of God is within you. And now they all come back, and he gathers them around, and they tell him, and he asks them, how was their journey.
Well, can you imagine this. Most of them are simple fishermen, and they went two-by-two because to send them one by one would be to lose them all. None of them would have the courage to be able to make that journey to these places and preach the Kingdom of God.
And here’s how Mark describes it:
“The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
And Jesus said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
They’re going on retreat. And I am sure that there’s an agenda and Jesus is going to preach to them, and teach them, and make sure they understand what they are doing. We don’t know, because Mark never tells us what Jesus tells them. That used to frustrate me, but now I kind of enjoy it, because you can fill in the blanks for yourself if you listen carefully.
“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.”
This is very nice, now. They’re in the boat, and they will cross the Sea of Galilee, and they are going to spend a couple of days in retreat, and they are going to pray, and be together, and do all these wonderful things, and deepen their faith, and deepen their commitment, and do all the things we do when we do go on retreat.
But, the people saw them leaving, and those who were smart enough knew when they got in the boat where they were going. So they ran around the whole beach around that area of Galilee and they got there first. And here the disciples, who had no time to eat, they were working so hard, they had been on this journey, and Jesus is with them, and they get off, and here is an even greater crowd of people.
Well, if it was us, we’d realise that the whole retreat was spoiled, that we weren’t going to be alone, we weren’t going to eat ourselves, and we were going to have to feed this massive number of people, and so the whole thing would be a great disappointment.
“When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,”
Pity, in this sense, doesn’t mean to feel sorry for them. The Jewish word really means, it doesn’t have the idea of looking down on them, the idea is he feels very sad because, as he says, they are like sheep without a shepherd, they don’t know where to turn. And he knows, deep in his own heart, what a terrible thing this is to feel the loneliness and not having any direction or any centre to your life. And he reaches out to that. And that’s why he understands he has always got his disciples, but these people need him.
“For,” he says.
“they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.”
What did he teach them? Well, we don’t know, because the gospel doesn’t tell us what he taught them. And yet, when Mark puts this in here he wants you to understand just who you are, and your situation, and what is the important thing when you go out to preach the Kingdom of God and what is secondary.
I’ll give you an example now.
There’s a Chinese priest who you all know, but I’m not going to mention his name, but I was with him for a while and we were talking one day about what does it mean when God …“When you were ordained,” I’ll call him Bill. “Bill, when you were ordained what did you feel that Jesus expected of you?”
And he said, “Well, you know, I was at the parish, and I decided that this was my people, and I was going to organize them in such a way that they would understand the scriptures and they would become fully adept at understanding the Old Testament and the New Testament. And they would be able to probably have practice lessons on how to preach and how to teach. And we’d organise into little groups. And then in these little groups we’d become maybe groups that would influence larger groups. And very soon we’d have a large community of people here. And this would be the preaching of the God and the extension of the Kingdom…”
And I said, “Well, what was your first few days like when you came there?”
And he said, “Well, I got into the parish, and I got all my stuff, and then I came down, and I had an office, and I was ready to start preparing to read the salvation of the world to these people and, all of a sudden, the cook says, ‘The toilets are overflowing.’ ‘Oh, alright, I’ll try to do something.’” So he went up and, being a handy guy, he finally got this thing underway.
And then he comes down, and he sits down, and he is ready to change the world again, and he’s sitting there reading the scripture about the sermon he is going to give, and then these three little kids come in and they say, “Father, our bird died, you know. Would you come and say some prayers?”
And I said, “What did you do, Bill?” And he said, “The kids, they felt so bad, there was about six or seven of them, so I went to their house and they had a little box and in the box was the dead bird. And I took them out in a very special place and we dug a little hole and we put a little cross on it…”
And I said, “You didn’t tell the bishop that you had the Catholic rites for the burial of a bird did you?” And he said, “Oh no, no. But the children were very, very happy, because we all prayed that God would give the bird happiness and that we would always remember the bird as being such a wonderful part of our life etc, etc.”
And so he got back to the business, after he got rid of the children, of saving the world. And he sat down, and he opened up this book again, and a little old lady came in and she said, “Father, excuse me, but I have something very important.” She was carrying oranges. There used to be an old saying in Taiwan, “Never trust an old lady carrying oranges”. It meant she was going to ask you to do something.
And he said, “Yes,” knowing exactly what it was. But first she was very polite. Then she decided, as they did in the old country, even in Europe, they never told you what was on their mind, they just kind of said, “Well, how are you doing? And how’s your mother? And how’s your father? And you’ve been a priest now for two weeks and what is it like…” And then she picks up her oranges to walk out and she turns back and says, “Oh, by the way, I have a grandson and he is entering the world now and I am wondering if you could write him a letter of introduction to a man who is training boys how to make bicycles” or something like that.
So I said to Bill, I said, “Well, how do you feel, Bill?” He said, “Well, I found out that it’s very hard to save the world when you have all these distractions and all these interruptions.”
And then I agreed with him, because much of your life are distractions and interruptions. You think you can have this wonderful plan when you’re in your house or wherever you are. And it looks so well on paper. And everything is going to happen, and you begin to implement it in a parish with ordinary people, and all you get is distractions and interruptions.
Mark is saying that’s what, to the disciples, you notice? Jesus, the first thing, you see, Jesus is the reason why they are there. It is Jesus. We are not preaching the Kingdom of God; we are preaching the presence of Jesus. And we don’t preach it with our mouths; we preach it with our lives. Remember that. You do not convert people with your mouth; you convert them with your life. Because when you start talking and explaining and doing all these wonderful things, the person who is listening to you is saying this is a man or a woman who really believes, and they really care, and they are taking time out, maybe, just to try to make me understand what they have in their own hearts.
So, basically, what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples is that preaching the word of God is not a matter of libraries, it’s not a matter of organization. It’s one thing. It is allowing the kindness and the love and the caring of Jesus to reach from your heart into everybody else’s heart.
And so the lady, the cook who comes down and her whole day has been ruined because the toilet is backed up, and you yourself go up and do that are saying that she is more important than the saving of the world through all the studies that you want to do that morning.
And the little children, who feel at a terrible loss because it’s the first time they touch death when their little bird dies, are to be given great importance.
And maybe it’s God trying to get your attention by all the distractions in your life that you don’t run over these things and feel they just happen.
And, of course, this is what God is saying to us. That the interruptions, and the distractions, and the ever flow of the ordinary day, is filled with the teaching and the preaching of what God expects of us and wants us to do and is with us to help us to become.
Because the Kingdom of God is only this: the presence of God with his people, and his people filled with a kind of kindness as Jesus always felt. A welcoming, never being upset, never being side-tracked from the very point of view is, that it is in the interruptions, and the little things, and the tiny miserable things that put us off very often and annoy us, it is through this that the Kingdom of God is revealed.
Why? Because love is only expressed through the small things in life. If you want to create the world, you want to be the famous person, you can do that. But if you are there to preach the love of God and the gift of God, all you have to do is pay attention to the interruptions in your life, and you will find that God will lead you to an understanding of how people are touched, because this is what Jesus did.
The first thing Mark said was, when his disciples came back, he sat down with them, and he listened, and he listened, and he listened. And then, when they got to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, he saw we have to lay aside many of our plans because something more important is here, and that is people in need, people in need of being reached out to, accepted, cared for.
And I think this is what Mark is trying to say. That it is in, not so much the preaching, but the living with people and the ordinariness of everyday life, with its ups and downs, its confusions and all its problems, and also with the love and caring of Jesus being expressed by a group of people who really think people are more important than plans, people are more important than the future, the people that are here and now with us, we must make them understand that we value them, we care about them, and that they are the reason why we are with them.
Because God works through people and so he hopes that we ourselves will give ourselves to the interruptions, and develop what Jesus was: a man of compassion, a man who listens, a man who cares, a man who heals by his listening, his compassion and his caring.
And this is what changes the world. Because the Kingdom of God is Jesus himself. And the more that we try to be like him, the more the Kingdom of God is preached to all the world.