I had lunch with an Anglican Ordinariate Roman Catholic Priest last week. In our conversation, we talked some about the differences he has seen between his time in The Episcopal Church and Roman Catholicism. One point that I found particularly interesting was the rubric within Roman rites that the priest, at his discretion, can shorten a scripture reading appointed for any given day. Episcopalians can’t do that. Instead, the rubric on page 888 reads “Any reading may be lengthened at discretion.” While there are plenty of Sunday’s that I’d like the hack and slash the RCL reading, this week, I’m in total agreement with my Rector, who is preaching, that the Gospel lesson should be extended to include all of verse 13. The opening should read something like, “After Jesus had heard this, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
The “this” which lacks a direct antecedent and would drive my homiletics professor crazy, is actually an ideal point of entry into this text. What Jesus heard was that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by a drunk and horny King Herod. As Keith noted, “That’s how Jesus’ day started.” This detail seems pretty important. It explains the whole “going off by himself” bit. And it opens the feeding of the 5,000 and more importantly, Jesus’ overflowing compassion up to a much deeper interpretation.
This miraculous event didn’t occur on the day Jesus got back from sabbatical. He wasn’t well rested, full of energy, and feeling good. No, he was having one of the worst days of his life. And it was on that day, as he dealt with the emotions surrounding the death of his cousin and he came to grips with the reality that it would soon be his head Herod would be after, that he, out of an overwhelming sense of compassion, healed the sick and helped his disciples feed the crowd of more than 5,000. Jesus was open to sharing his Father’s love, even on the worst day of his life.
There are days that I wish I could just get in a boat and go off to a deserted place by myself. There are days that I feel zapped of all compassion. There are days that I don’t really want to care about somebody else. And as it happens, those are often the days that my phone rings the most, that the need is greatest, and that I end up being blessed by being a conduit of God’s steadfast love and compassion. Compassion, it seems, isn’t just for the good days, but maybe especially for the bad ones.