June 18, 2023
For 30 years, from 1960 – 1998, there was civil discord and violence in Northern Ireland. 3,500 people were killed. 52% civilians. Primarily, the conflict was nationalistic and political rather than religious Protestant against Catholic. The violence subsided dramatically with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 – 25 years ago. The time of the conflict was called: “the troubles.” It is the word the evangelist Matthew uses to describe the distressing condition of the crowd and the reaction of Jesus. “At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus has discovered in a very short time of proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven that the people in the countryside are in desperate need of spiritual leadership. He turns to his disciples and acknowledges the great work that needs to be done. Jesus gives them the authority to combat evil and to heal. He calls twelve by name and sends them to announce the Kingdom of Heaven to the House of Israel, to cure the sick, to raise the dead, to cleans lepers and to drive out demons. The pity, the empathy, the compassion in the heart of Jesus finds expression in his words and deeds that embody and incarnate God’s love and mercy.
There is a similar message in our first reading, the book of Exodus. The Israelites, after fleeing slavery in Egypt, pitch camp in the desert of Sinai. Moses encounters God on the mountain. God tells Moses to say to the people, “If you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”
We learn in the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, the special relationship and covenant that the Jewish people enjoy with God, in Jesus Christ, become a blessing for the nations. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Something changes in us, even in the darkest moments, when we realize, we know, that we are loved. The wonderful thing about God’s love for us it is particular and, at the same time, extended to others. Divine love is personal and communal. Likely, every person in the crowd seeing and hearing Jesus, feels Jesus is speaking personally to them. It happens at Mass when something is read or said to the entire assembly, and we walk away thinking the words are intended just for me.
Can we imagine now that we are in the crowd? Jesus is looking at us with love -- concerned that we are troubled -- not unlike like the contemporaries of Jesus and the people in Ireland over twenty-five years ago. We are troubled and often in distress. And now we hear Jesus calling some of us by name, entrusting us with the mission and the authority to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to combat evil and to heal. Jesus reminds us, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.” The precious gift of God’s love and mercy we have received in Christ is not to be hoarded but to be shared.
13th Sunday Ordinary A