Recently on the Aleteia.org website, there was an article that said more adult Americans have a growing appetite for reading the Bible. It reported that 66 percent say they are curious to know more about the Bible, 29 percent have a strong desire, 58 percent believe that the Bible transformed their lives and 14 percent of the adult population read the Bible daily.
One must be still and listen to God to be recharged with spiritual energy and strength. The rhythm of Christian life is alternately meeting with God in the deepest recesses of our hearts (desert time, including Bible reading) and serving others in the marketplace. Desert time is not a luxury, but a necessity. Each of us needs desert times and desert places to escape the demands of our calendars and to-do lists in order to recenter our lives in the compassion and grace of Jesus, our true shepherd.
In today’s fast-paced and frantic world, many things can weigh us down, press heavily upon us, burden us and drain our spirits. Even amid the travails of self-gratification, social upheaval and stress all around us, Jesus invites us to bring our burdens and weariness and lay them down before him.
Are you weary of the endless pressures from work or of bringing up a family in a godless world? Are you weary of coping with poor health? Are you burdened by guilt and shame for past sin or persistent sin in your life? Do fear, anxiety, anger, depression and confusion tend to dominate your daily life?
There is no burden too heavy, no sin too shameful or embarrassing for Jesus. He freely, willingly gave his life on the cross that we might be free, that we might be comforted and healed of all that prevents us from living the new life he came to bring.
The most revealing part of Mark 6:30-34 is that when Jesus saw the crowd looking for him, “his heart was moved with pity ... for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” What a descriptive turn of phrase. Jesus looks at the crowd and is moved with pity by their plight, for they are so desperate and in need of what he alone can give them.
The sight of these people has a profound effect on Jesus. He is deeply moved by what he sees: people who seem lost, helpless, vulnerable, directionless, with no sense of purpose or mission, people who seem vulnerable to every wind that blows.
A sheep without a shepherd cannot find its way — sheep tend to wander. Left to ourselves, we, like sheep, can easily get lost in life. Life can be so bewildering, and we do not know which road to take. A sheep without a shepherd cannot find its pasture and its food.
Throughout our lives, we seek nourishment to keep us going, and we need inspiration as well. When we seek life’s meaning and purpose in places other than God, our minds are still unsatisfied, our hearts still restless and our souls still unfed. We gain strength for the journey of life regularly from he who is the Living Bread.
Sheep are quite fragile, they are naturally defenseless; they cannot be left alone and must be watched continuously, as predators try to infiltrate the flock to kill them. We cannot live life alone either. Only in the company of Jesus can we walk in this world with strength, hope and courage.
Jesus is our shepherd and king. His rule is rooted in peace, truth, goodness, compassion, righteousness, mercy, reconciliation, sacrifice and never-ending love. He cares for all his disciples so they can carry out the mission they share with him. Jesus, well aware that his disciples do not have unlimited energy, is aware that we, too, as disciples, need rest and refreshment, and he provides for us as well.
Are you selfless or selfish? Are you thriving or just surviving? Are you focused and energized or scattered and tired? Can you step aside to start again? Let us rest in God, feel with God and live the compassion of God.
Father Jones is an institutional chaplain at UPMC Mercy.