In this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 6: 30-34), Jesus and his apostles try to get away for a bit of rest, but a huge crowd of people find out where they are going. When Jesus sees them, like sheep without a shepherd, he is moved with compassion or pity.
The word used by Mark is σπλαγχνίζομαι – literally, to feel with one’s guts. But in a footnote in Breaking the Word, Megan McKenna writes:
The phrase ‘moved to pity’ has two meanings in the Gospel, and here it carries both: to prompt a physical reaction to what one witnesses (for example, throwing up) and to feel such anger toward what you see that you give birth to something new and unimagined. Jesus’ reactions are this strong and he moves to a new level of intensity in his preaching and teaching.
We sometimes miss the force of Jesus’ reaction because we miss the context.
The disciples had just returned from a missionary journey. Perhaps their preaching stirred among many people a desire for a Messiah who would rescue them from their poverty and the oppression they were experiencing under Roman occupation. And so, many have traveled to find this “Jesus,” this new Jeshuah, Joshuah, who they hoped would rescue them, these people who were walking in the darkness of oppression.
The oppression was real; they experienced it in their poverty, in the taxes, and in the presence of imperial troops.
But they had just seen a sign of the violence of the imperial rule.
In the passage just before today’s Gospel, we read how Herod the king, the local force of Roman oppression, had killed John the Baptist at a dinner party. John had awakened the hopes of the people and now he was killed.
The people felt abandoned – like sheep without a shepherd who would care for them. And so they seek out Jesus.
Jesus knows their fears, their hopes – and he is moved by the desperation he sees. Perhaps he was moved to the point of nausea, to vomiting.
But Jesus did not stay there. His compassion, feeling with them, moved him to share bread with them – and eventually to share his life for them, giving himself for them.
Am I ever moved to the point of vomiting when I see the poverty around me in Honduras? Am I ever nauseous at the oppression wrought by the economic and political elites here? Or am I complacent or paralyzed in the sight of so much suffering?
Lord, move my guts to nausea and to a holy disquiet so that I may serve those in need and accompany them in the pursuit of justice and righteousness.