WHAT SHOULD BE DONE WITH FEAR AND SADNESS?

          The Gospel today reflects on Jesus’ withdrawal to a deserted place (NOT necessarily the Sahara desert; just where no one was living).  He pities the people who follow Him, and He teaches them.  It is a fine prelude to the following scene, when Jesus feeds the multitude.  But instead of using Mark’s telling of this story, our Lectionary moves to John 6.  We will have 5 weeks of this Gospel and its “Bread of Life” discourse, in large part because Mark’s is too short for a whole liturgical year.

          It is Matthew’s Gospel, though, that lets us know Jesus’ desire to withdraw was the result of others coming to tell Him about the execution of John the Baptist.  This is important, as no one better than Tom (N T) Wright explains it.  The sadness of Jesus is complicated:  John was His cousin and mentor in preaching the nearness of the Kingdom.  It was only after John’s arrest by Herod (according to Mark 1) that Jesus began His own preaching, and that in Galilee (the territory of Herod).  His message and John’s were very similar in content.

          Not only did Jesus lose a close compatriot, He lost one whose mission He shared, and so He could reasonably conclude that John’s fate would sooner or later be His, as well.  And of course He was right.

          So Jesus was afraid for His own safety and saddened by the loss of His partner in preaching.  What Jesus did (today’s Gospel) is therefore important for us.  Jesus turned His grief and sadness and fear outward.  He served others by teaching and by feeding.

          I personally know so many people who are fearful and sad and grief-stricken, whether because of illness or loneliness or loss.  Jesus’ example is a difficult one to follow, but it is powerful:  turn grief/sadness/loneliness/loss outward, and make those feelings the motive power to reach out to others.

          The alternative is not good:  brooding over the pain and the disappointment, and gradually turning inward, bitter, and resentful.  It is natural; it is not helpful.  Worse, it is destructive.  It takes help:  encouragement, support, affection, accompaniment (to use one of Pope Francis’ favorite words).  Then it can be possible, and it can be a path of healing.

          I know, as I said, many people suffering in such a way—I am, very often, one of them myself.  I do not always turn outward toward others; too often, I turn inward on myself—and it is unhealthy.  But I am encouraged by others (and, I pray, I encourage others as well) to reach out instead of turning in.  Jesus, help me to follow your example.  Jesus, teach me to make my sadness an energy that leads me to affirm and love others.