In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Mark gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ inner state. Such insights are comparatively rare. The Gospels recount the effect Jesus had on the emotions of others, but Jesus’ own feelings are usually left unreported. The New American Bible that Catholics use at Mass reads, “His heart was moved with pity for them.” This is an artful translation of the Greek, which uses an earthier term, splagchnízomai, to describe Jesus’ state. The word means something like “guts, bowels.” A literal translation would read something like “He was moved in his guts for them.” By using this word, Mark makes a strong connection between Jesus and the God of Israel, whose mercy is regularly described in the Septuagint with the same word. The Hebrew word behind this term is rahamim, a term closely related to the words for “womb” and “love.” Not surprisingly, the word is strongly identified with motherhood. The feeling Jesus experiences is similar to that of a mother responding to an infant’s hunger or to her child’s cry. Rahamim is sympathy that inspires immediate action. In Jesus’ case, it led to an extended sharing of the good news that ended with the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
‘His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.’ (Mk 6:34)
Have you too had a flash of insight? Try to remember the event with as much detail as you can.
How did it help you recommit to your Christian mission?
This was an important juncture in Jesus’ ministry, since he had recently suffered two disheartening setbacks, the rejection of Nazareth and the execution of John the Baptist. In the aftermath of these events, when Jesus could have started to question the value of his work, he instead paid attention to the Scriptures and to the promptings of the Spirit. The Father responded with a flash of insight: The setbacks are temporary, but the shepherding mission that Jeremiah foretold endures. In that moment, the crowd became a symbol of all humanity, with its confusion, hopes, thwarted dreams and industrious self-defeat. This intuitive flash filled Jesus with compassion, and that feeling drew him onward to ever greater action.
These moments of insight happen at critical points in Jesus’ ministry. Mark recounts another in 10:21, when the rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Not long after this encounter, Jesus embarked on the journey to Jerusalem that ended with the cross. Likewise, in Lk 19:41, when Jesus caught sight of Jerusalem, he wept over it. The sight of the young man and of the city moved him so deeply that he remained committed to his mission. He acted not just for those he saw, but for the entire lost humanity they symbolized.
This is our mission as disciples. If we pay attention to the Scriptures and to the voice of the Spirit, God will open our eyes as well. In the leaderless flock, Jesus caught a glimpse of the suffering and beauty of all humanity. Just so, God has a vision in store for us. Some moment, some insight, some event will symbolize the whole of human existence with such heartbreaking clarity that we will never be the same. Thus transformed, the great shepherd will provide what we need in the Spirit to continue his mission until God’s flock is once again whole.