sixteenth Sunday of ordinary time
During the middle of July many people take vacations to give themselves and their families a bit of respite from the daily grind. It is good to get away and rest a while. Jesus recommended the same to his Apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
A few verses later in this week’s’ Gospel, we are told the vast crowd started to follow Jesus and his disciples on foot, so eager they were to see him. So much for resting awhile. Shortly after, Jesus moved with pity disembarked from the boat and began to teach them.
Notice something in the story. Jesus was moved with pity not because they were sick or hungry or poor. The probability most of those chasing after Jesus were in need of some great physical need. He was moved with pity when he saw them because they were aimless folks, without direction. He described them as sheep without a shepherd. What he did he do next? Jesus began to teach them. He didn’t cure them, he didn’t provide housing for them, he didn’t feed them. What he did do is teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Compassionate people are often tempted into the notion of wanting to help those less fortunate with an immediate fix. Most of the Church’s social outreach is based upon this belief. Food pantries, rent assistance, healthcare, childcare and a host of other cares. The problem is alleviated for a day or a week, but the lack is never ending. Not emphasized enough is teaching those sheep who are without shepherds.
The same dynamic holds true for kind and compassionate individuals as well. Just giving things isn’t enough to help people grow or to better reflect the image of God in their own person. Think about an overindulgent parent who gives his child everything he needs plus everything he wants. Often those offspring develop worse off. Why is that so?
Human beings are creatures with physical needs. The basic human needs to live are obvious. Look at a baby, the child’s physical needs are paramount. As the child grows, the needs begin to level off, and the spiritual natures need to be addressed if the person is to be well-rounded. What too many people do not recognize is a person is in the possession of an immortal soul which also needs to be nourished and protected. The nourishment is supernatural and the only way in which a corporal creature can have his soul strengthened is through the Sacraments and thoughtful reflection and contemplation in prayer and virtue.
Contemplation of the Divine does not happen instinctually. There must be a foundation of knowledge and understanding of the object of desire and need, which in this case, is God. In order to reflect more deeply on man’s ultimate desire a basis of understanding is necessary. This is the reason Jesus was teaching them. He was trying to nourish the crowds’ spiritual natures, to address the reason they looked as if they were sheep without a shepherd. To have your material needs met is never enough. Even the richest persons without spiritual nourishment are aimless.
For anyone who has taught students, teaching is hard business. It so much easier to give a donation and in a split second be on my way. It has an immediate and gratifying result, but the effects do not last for long. A stomach will always be in need of filling. Material giving is a good Christian thing to do, but more needs to be done— namely teaching your children, siblings and all of those around you who are in the dark about the Kingdom of God.
Teaching takes a great deal of patience and time. If done well, it is indeed an act of charity. Far from a commodity which dispels quite rapidly, a well-trained son or daughter will have the potential of being spiritual nourished for a lifetime.