If you took all the events recorded in the gospels and allocated hours to them (eg. wedding feast at Cana one day, Sermon on the Mount half a day, Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well an hour or two, and four days for the suffering, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus), the entire recorded activity of Jesus’ three-year public ministry accounts for only a couple of weeks.
What was Jesus doing for the rest of the time?
This weekend’s gospel reading hints at an answer:
The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. Mark 6
Jesus, and the apostles who were to become the first shepherds of the church, would have spent a lot of time together. Much of what they learnt from Jesus they would have picked up in the hours of friendship and formation spent together on the road, and often when they managed to get away to deserted spots for some R&R.
Being friends there would have also some mutual challenging going on between Jesus and his disciples, even some tough love conversations, not unlike the warning that opens this weekend’s first reading when Jeremiah prophesies:
“Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the Lord.
Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. Jeremiah 23
We priests will rightly feel directly challenged today hearing this pretty strong challenge. We are used to being challenged by parishioners, some of us for being too relaxed about faith and others for being too strict, some for being too serious, others for being too light-hearted, some for giving too much challenge and others for not challenging enough.
In my experience we priests are our own harshest critics as we reprimand ourselves daily for not responding appropriately to the diverse needs of parishioners.
When I left the parish of the Hurunui earlier in the year I commented that “the expectations that parishioners’ have of their priest are far too…” I waited for parishioners to fill the gap and they quickly responded “high.”
I suggested that they were wrong and that their expectations of their priest were far too LOW.
My reasoning was that all that parishioners expect is for their priest to be a nice guy who gives a short homily containing at least one good laugh, says yes without hesitation to every baptism and marriage request, signs every preference card (giving enrolment to a Catholic school) and hosts a good party at least once a year.
But people are entitled to much more from their priest.
They are right to expect their priest to be one who loves God and who loves them, who prays for all parishioners every day, with a special prayer for those who are suffering. Parishioners are right to expect that their priest is committed to celebrating the liturgy well. They need their priest to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without hesitation or deviation and with regular repetition.
People need their priests to be doctors of the soul which requires the priest to strive every day to live more intimately in relationship with Jesus.
Parishioners will forgive a priest/shepherd his many faults if he is faithful to Jesus Christ and is passionate about leading parishioners to maturity in their relationship with Jesus.
Parishioners are right to hold their priest to this high ideal, and parishioners show maturity in Christ themselves when they challenge each other to nothing less than this same high ideal.