Saturday, February 15, 2014

Our first reaction

If we want to see how well we have internalized the gospel, one of the best ways is to watch out initial response to a situation.

In today's gospel Jesus we can compare the reaction of Jesus and the reaction of the disciples to the crowd. Jesus looks at the crowd and "is moved with pity." The word Mark uses here refers to a stirring in the very pit of your guts. For them the gut not the heart was the symbolic seat of emotion. Where you feel it when you are upset? Most of us still find that it's our digestive system where we get upset.

The disciples on the other hand can't get out of their heads. Their response reveals no feeling at all.

His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”

Notice that their question is completely impersonal. They don't even ask, "where can we get enough." They leave it in the abstract "anyone." Their train of thought seems to be: no one could feed this many people, therefore we can't do it, therefore we shouldn't do anything.

When we hear facts like, there are on any given night more than 600,000 homeless people in the US, how do we react? Too often we can fall into reacting like the disciples. We think "how sad" but then we don't know how to fix the whole thing so we excuse ourselves from having to do anything. We just keep reading the paper with no emotional response.

When I was a child my mother used to tell me about starving children in India. That was safe because it was so far away we couldn't do anything, and so we could count ourselves excused. If she had mentioned the starving children in southwest Virginia or even closer to home in Pittsylvania County, I might have been "moved with pity" and felt an actual need to do something.

When did we decide that being emotional was not a good thing and in particular it was not manly to "wear your heart on your sleeve"?

Today's gospel reminds us that to imitate Christ is to allow ourselves to be disturbed by the suffering of others, and when we allow ourselves to be "moved with pity" we with the help of Jesus can work miracles.