We’ve been following an interesting Gospel narrative the past few weeks. Jesus has begun his Galilean ministry; it’s impressive. In the synagogue in Capernaum he healed a man possessed by a demon. Leaving the man’s body the demon cried out for everyone to hear, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the holy one of God!”
He then healed Simon’s mother-in-law who was ill with a fever. Traveling throughout the area he continued to heal people. He cleansed a leper. He healed a paralytic and even forgave his sins.
He challenged the Pharisees by curing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. “The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.” From the very beginning of his ministry he was in conflict with these ultra-conservative religious leaders.
Don’t think that fake news is something new. The religious leaders used it against Jesus by spreading the word that Jesus was in league with the devil. “By the prince of demons he drives out demons!” “He has an unclean spirit.”
He received little support from his family who wanted him to come back home. They said, “He is out of his mind.” In spite of the opposition, he continued the ministry and gathered many disciples, including his inner circle, the Twelve.
While crossing the lake in a boat he silenced a storm when his disciples, panicking, pleaded with him to save them. They landed near a cemetery in the pagan territory of the Gerasenes. There he healed a terrifying man who was possessed by many spirits. He cast the demons into a herd of two thousand swine. They immediately leapt off the cliffs along the lake and were drowned.
A woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years merely touched his cloak, and was immediately healed. He touched the hand of a twelve-year old girl who had died. She immediately came back to life, stood up, and was given something to eat.
As he continued his ministry, his fame grew among the people. He gathered the Twelve and commissioned them to take a role in his ministry. He sent them out in two’s. They preached, healed the sick and drove out evil spirits just as he had done. “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught.” Today, we continue the narrative of the early days of the ministry.
It’s a very simple passage, but one that reveals a great deal to us. The apostles reported the wonderful things they’d done. I’m sure they were excited to report to him the healings they performed, and the demons they expelled. I’m sure, too, that Jesus was pleased with them. I can imagine a great deal of hugging, and tears of awe and astonishment.
It seems that, though very happy and uplifted by all they had experienced, the apostles were exhausted. The ministry was draining. But they couldn’t leave it behind them. “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity to eat.” Jesus, in a caring, motherly fashion, reached out to them. “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’”
The way the scene ends is so very touching. Jesus hustled his tired colleagues into a boat so that they could find a quiet place to recoup. But they discovered that it isn’t that way in the ministry. “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.”
I can picture the apostles’ faces when they saw the crowd waiting for them at the shore. I can imagine them thinking, “O no! I just don’t have the energy for this!” Jesus doesn’t seem to be surprised by the presence of the crowd. His reaction to them tells us so much about him. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved by pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He takes over the situation. “He began to teach them many things.”
The people are his concern. He never hesitates to reach out to them. Rest and food aren’t important to him – the people are. They’re starving for spiritual nourishment. How could he possibly withhold it from them? This is a lesson the Twelve and the rest of his disciples need to learn.
Saint Paul would sum up Christian ministry in a little phrase he used in a letter he sent to his colleague, Timothy. He wrote, “I am being poured out like a libation.” (2 Timothy 4:6) The minister gives until there’s nothing more to give.
This beautiful little passage defines for us the Christian life. Every one of us shares in Jesus’ mission. We share it as a mother or a father. We share it as a volunteer in the community. We share it when we visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned. We share it when we have coffee with a friend. We share it when we go out of our way to help, to listen, to support. We share the mission of Jesus when we pour ourselves out like a libation. Is ministry tiring? Of course it is!
Is ministry frustrating? Definitely! Is ministry dangerous? At times, yes. Does ministry eat away at my personal time? You’d better believe it! Is ministry scary? If we believe what Saint Paul said, it certainly is because it challenges our very existence! “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
If we feel that Jesus is distant, or that we don’t know him, perhaps we haven’t taken him into our lives. Perhaps we haven’t made room for him. Perhaps we’re too busy trying to be happy. Perhaps we’re trying too hard to find ourselves. Perhaps all that matters is that we’re successful.
Finding Jesus is simple. He’s constantly whispering to us, “Come, follow me.” If we really want to find him we have to respond to his invitation. We have to say yes from the bottom of our hearts.