“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
Come Apart into the Wilderness
Ordinary 16 Year B St. Mark 6: 30 — 34
1. Our reading has been the section just before Jesus feeds the huge crowd of 5,000 men (let alone women and children present). Although only five verses long, it reflects powerfully the vision of the great Prophets from the time of Moses through to John the Baptist. These references were identified and recognised easily by the early Christians, whether of Jewish or Gentile background. The great beauty of the prophetic texts is best appreciated when we situate them in the long stream of God’s interaction with humanity — otherwise referred to as Salvation History. It is then that Jesus Messiah stands out in a kind of three-dimensional perspective and becomes more real and relevant to modern humanity. So let’s take time to go back occasionally through these Reflections and review our knowledge of the Prophets and the powerful message they present. Let’s take time to ponder and imagine how we would answer people’s questions — or even our own.
2. The Christian Church took our Lord’s call to the wilderness (‘eremos‘) very seriously from the beginning. Remember, John the Baptist didn’t preach on street corners or in coffee shops! He lived and taught in the desert — ‘eremos‘. From, the Greek word we get the English ‘eremite‘, or more commonly, ‘hermit‘. John the Baptist was a hermit. Many early Christians followed his example and lived in the wilderness areas in answer to a Call from God to abandon the ordinary pursuits of life, to give themselves totally to preoccupation with the divine. Hermits do NOT isolate themselves from other people! Hermits have always welcomed others either to visit them or to join them. They choose to live in radical simplicity to give testimony to the presence and power of God. They go to places others do not value so that they are free to focus on God. It is a special calling, traces of which can be found in several different kinds of religious communities.
An important aspect of the “eremitical life” — the life of solitude and silence, is that all Christians can benefit from it by incorporating some of the basic elements into their own lives. Very few of us are called by God to forsake all and retire to the wilderness! However, there is a place for solitude and silence in our own life, in whatever way we believe it to be appropriate. There is, in fact, a real need for us to follow our Lord’s example and calling: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and REST a while”. It may be that once a week we spend half an hour quietly reflecting on some aspect of our spiritual life, or on some Biblical thought. Or, it may be that we try daily to take two or three minutes to turn away from absorption with matters around us, or to be present to God and simply wait upon Him — not worrying about what we think we should say.
This can hardly be betraying our role as a spouse or parent. Let it be a time during which we seek spiritual strength and empowerment to be a better ambassador of our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as a better spouse or parent. Our short article, “Return to the Desert” may help you in this matter.
3. Our reading closes with a very important comment. After our Lord arrived at His chosen “deserted place”, and finding a “vast crowd” awaiting Him and His disciples (the chosen twelve), He changed tack immediately:
“and He began to teach them many things.”
Some linguists believe the words carry the meaning that He taught them as much as He could; not so much in volume, as in opening up what they had learnt of the ancient Scriptures about the Messiah, and God’s Plan for His people. To Jesus, this was both important and urgent!
In our age it is so easy — especially in religious matters — to get carried away with what fascinates or what attracts interest, rather than to concentrate on what Jesus teaches. Crowds flock to the former but only a faithful remnant actually “do their homework” when it comes to studying the “many things” Jesus teaches through His Word and through His appointed teachers.
Fashion and fad are so powerful in contemporary culture that they have taken over as the chief influences throughout Christianity and its fringe movements. What do we do about it? We certainly need to pray very seriously about these trends.
Of equal importance, there is a wonderful solution readily available. We devote ourselves to careful, systematic, disciplined and faithful study and reflection with regard to the Scriptures and testify to our fellow Christians how much this means to us. Thus the “many things” Jesus teaches can be brought within the growing reach of others.
We may need to check if we have, almost unconsciously, formed an opinion that people aren’t interested these days “in that sort of thing”. True, we are confronting anti-theistic influences from all directions; but might there be something in the thought that what we have tried to present in the past may need reviewing or reworking? Just how closely have we followed the teaching of Jesus, and prepared ourselves to pass it on. There is no room for despair, only frank assessment and getting on with the task as best we know how. And it is a task for us all — at all levels, in both prayer and action of some sort. The great joy is to keep in mind the thought that our Lord is especially present to us, within us and in our gatherings when we take up His call, with His zeal and urgency.