Faithful to our "fresh pineapple" principle, let us remember that we are in the "section of the breads". It will not escape to us either that between last Sunday's Gospel and today's, a passage has been skipped.
Between the two, S. Marc reports the death of John the Baptist during a dinner, organized with great pageantry by Herod who "liked listening to him" but who "when he heard him... became very disturbed" (Mc 6 : 20). This is the typical example of a "bad meal". The food of this feast is the maggoty fruit of he who wants to eat the salad of God's Word, but largely dressed with worldly compromises, in this case : adultery. It is "a bloody bad meal" : as no one can serve two Masters, Herod ends up serving his concubine with John's head... "on a dish". Enjoy!
One of the keys for the understanding of the mission of the Twelve, as we saw, is the reference to the Pascal meal of the Exodus with Moses as a shepherd, together with the fact that "man lives not on bread alone", but on "all that proceeds from the mouth of God".
By contrast with Herod's dinner, the return of the Twelve (in today's Gospel) is marked by the fact that "the apostles had no time even to eat". To eat what? Hadn't Jesus said to them not to take any food for the road (Mc 6 : 8)? "The apostles returned and reported to Jesus all they had done and taught.". If we had to choose between an invitation at Herod's dinner or an invitation to join Jesus and the Twelve, knowing what is on the menu in both cases, which would be our choice? This is not a hypothetical question. This is a choice we have to make all the time. Do we make the good choice?
With regard to the meal of Jesus and the Twelve, we only mentioned the appetizers. Jesus says to them : "Go off by yourselves to a remote place that you may have some rest". Jesus has first of all compassion on his envoys. Their mission had been very tiring indeed. Is this compassion of Jesus on the Twelve then erased by his compassion on the crowd, as Herod's sympathy for John had been erased by the seduction of the Herodia's girl ? Will the crowd play the part of "spoilsport", and will the Apostles pay for the expenses ?
Here is the answer: "And he started a long teaching session with them". After cocktail time, here comes the main course. S. Mark does not give us any detail of the menu, but we have a more than approximate idea of it thanks to S. John (ch 6). But there is a precision that S. Mark does not omit to give us: "And he started a long teaching session with them". Even S. Francis of Assisi seems to have forgotten this, he who told his disciples to hold "brief speeches, because the Lord spoke briefly on this earth" (second rule). Jesus holds not a brief but a long teaching session.
The Twelve, who were hungry and tired, did not lose anything by waiting. On the contrary, how lucky they were! Thanks to the crowd of those who came uninvited, they have been regaled beyond expectation. The wisdom of the world says: "it's no use reasoning with a hungry man". Herod shows us that it is the opposite which is true and that its no use reasoning with a satiated man. In order to hear and to taste the word of God, nothing better than a good fast. Do we fast every Friday to have more appetite for the Word of Sunday? If so, "(the Lord your God) made you experience hunger, but he gave you the manna to eat which neither you nor your fathers had known, to show you that man lives not on bread alone, but that all that proceeds from the mouth of God is life for man." (Dt 8 : 3). In short, hunger is the best sauce.
"And he started a long teaching session with them". It seems to me that this verse of the Gospel gives us food for thought. We live in a consumer society and we have if little ear for the Word. As somebody said to me: "During a homily, after a few minutes, everybody starts to cough". We take holidays, and we seize the opportunity to listen to Gods word ... even less than usually. The poor, who never take any holidays and who do not even know if they will have to eat a piece of bread or a rice bowl before the end of the day, are capable of listening to "a long teaching session". And when, in an exceptional dash of generosity, we, the rich, organize humane supply convoys to the victims of wars and disasters, with food known as "of first need", the poor at the time of the war in Balkans, answer to us: "Thank you, but we need bibles more than anything else!". Nobody had thought of sending any bibles.
And today, as in the time of Jesus, the worst form of misery, the very one that caused Jesus sympathy, is "because they were like sheep without a shepherd". It was not the lack of bread, nor even the lack of bibles that caused his sympathy. It was the lack of shepherds. This was the very form of misery of an Ethiopian with his bible in his luxury carriage on the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. The Lord had pity on him and sent Philip, one of the Seven (first deacons), instituted however by the Twelve "to serve at tables" (Ac 6 : 2). "- Do you really understand what you are reading ? - How could I unless someone explains it to me?" (litt. : "unless someone gives me guidance?" (Ac 8 : 30-31). Il wouldn't have been right for the Twelve to neglect "the word of God to serve at tables". But one of the Seven to whom the Twelve had entrusted this task is sent by "an Angel of the Lord" to announce the Word to a pagan, thus neglecting table service.
How much do we care about this form of misery? "Then I heard the voice of the Lord, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? I answered : Here I am. Send me!" (Is 6 : 8). Each year, on Sunday "of the Good Shepherd" (4th Easter Sunday), we pray for the vocations. Did we leave it at that, or ...?
The Lord, however, is neither hard of hearing nor of heart: "I will place shepherds over them who will care for them. No longer will they fear or be terrified. No one will be lost." (1st reading). What do we wait for? The Lord waits, until we ask him, in order to give to us. If we don't ask, it means that we don't want what he promises, as the Samaritans did not want Amos: "Off with you, seer, go back to the land of Judah", they said to him (Am 7 : 12).
The Lord also invites us to pray for the wretched "shepherds who mislead and scatter the sheep" (1st reading), instead of wasting our time in judging and criticizing.
"It is true, writes Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Foccolare communities (at the origin bible study groups during World War 2), that certain men in Church History did not fulfill their mission with dignity and even betrayed the Gospel, more conscious of the honor with which they felt covered than of the weight of their responsibility, considering their function more like a power then like a service. But aren't we all sinners? Shouldn't we above all judge us ourselves? If we keep that in memory we will see the apostles and afterwards the bishops with more serenity by understanding that their only vocation is to be Christ. The majority of the ministers whom God chose himself in twenty centuries certainly tended towards this model. If some of them deviated of this way, let us remember that Christ, on this earth, could not avoid the treason of Judas. Each man is created free."
As for those who think to be able to listen to the voice of the Lord in their heart without needing the ministry of the Church and the adepts of Scriptura sola, they are worthy of pity also, because they are victims of the "anti-shepherd complex". They think they are in heaven, and to have achieved perfect holiness. Nothing more perilous! Admittedly what distinguishes the Christian economy from the Jewish economy, is that God does not speak from the outside only any more:
"God also speaks from the inside; (but) this interior word must have its guarantee and its standard in the external word, in the Magisterium of the Church" (D. Barsotti).
"All that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God." (CCC 119). The Catechism then quotes S. Augustine who said: "But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me."
Wouldn't this be a condition for true peace, not as the world gives peace, but as Jesus does (cf. Jn14 : 27)?