Greetings, SBT Readers!
Though I venture to list Jesus' core teachings in the following reflection, I have not "unpacked" them in terms of the present global reality. Though the historical Jesus acted locally, the universal nature of his teachings gives them contemporary relevance. Consider the mandate to "act justly." If we apply this to climate change, then each of us would need to assess how we might make life-style changes for the sake of the planet. The evidence of planetary disaster is all around us -- as, for example, the flooding in western Europe, and the heat wave and wild fires in the western United States and Canada. Scientists point out the direct correlation between such calamities and carbon emissions and other pollutants. Each one of us is culpable at some level for the calamities afflicting the world today; each one of us can take some steps -- no matter how small-- to reduce our carbon footprint.
The apostles gathered with Jesus and reported everything they had done and taught. He said to them,
“Come away to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in such great numbers that
they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. The people saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns, arriving at the place before them. When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
So much for a deserted place... Mark never tells us how the crowds caught wind of where Jesus and his followers were heading, but he does convey their determination and sense of urgency: They "hastened on foot from all the towns," arriving before the boat. No doubt the apostles were annoyed at this interruption. After all, they had earned their rest and still had to eat. Jesus, however, could see how hungry the people were for spiritual sustenance and was "moved with pity" because they were "like sheep without a shepherd."
So what did Jesus teach these shepherdless sheep? All we know is that he taught them "many things" but there are no specifics in the gospel account. What we can do, however, is reconstruct the scene and fill in the gaps. We know from the text that the people were desperate to see Jesus; this implies that 1) they were motivated by more than curiosity; 2) they pursued him because he had something to offer that their own religious leaders failed to provide. In an earlier passage, we learn that Jesus' fame was "quite widespread" and that people thought he was a prophet, or Elijah or even John the Baptist who, having been raised from the dead, now had mighty powers (Mk 6:14-16). It is possible, then, that the people were seeking healing, forgiveness, consolation, and moral guidance-- the very needs that drew them to John the Baptist when he was alive. No doubt they were looking for answers to questions regarding sin, suffering, death, the afterlife, relationship with God --and, no doubt, this is what Jesus taught them.
Like the crowds in today's Gospel, we are like sheep without a shepherd. Our guiding institutions, both secular and religious, have let us down, and across the globe, people are dealing with catastrophic events of every kind. The pandemic, climate change, natural disasters, violence, famine, social displacement, poverty, unemployment-- all these realities have spawned apathy, terror, hopelessness, despair, hatred, and grief. Every day brings bad news both locally and globally, and every day, the world's problems seem more complex and less solvable.
So what would Jesus teach us?
I believe his message would be consistent with the core teachings recorded in the Gospels:
- Love God
- Trust in God
- Pray always
- Love neighbor
- Forgive "enemies"
- Have compassion
- Don' t judge others
- Act justly
- Keep the commandments
- Be peacemakers
- Don't be afraid
- Know that God loves you
This list, of course, is not all-inclusive but it does cover "many things" that Jesus typically taught. These are the teachings that we so desperately need to hear today-- our very survival depends upon them!