The Crowd

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?”
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. (Mt. 13:10-11)

In previous chapters, Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing the crowd. The disciples have accompanied him. They are starting to understand what Jesus is about but they can still at times be very dense. The crowds do not seem to be getting it. They are hearing and seeing but do not understand what Jesus is trying to teach them. This passage points out a basic distinction between the disciples and the crowd.

Maybe members of the crowd had an initial brief fervor after hearing Jesus and witnessing his healing touch. Perhaps they then lost the fervor and went back to their old ways of acting and thinking.  Yesterday, we heard the Israelites railing against Moses. The miraculous exodus had set them free. Led out of their comfort  zones, they were griping and moaning against Moses and God. “Did you bring us all the way our here to starve and die? We want to go back to Egypt. At least, we had food and drink.” They seem to have forgotten the rigors of slavery and oppression. They wanted comfort, safety and  security.

Jesus tells the disciples that knowledge about God’s empire had been granted to them. Certainly, this does not mean that they have earned an exclusive right to salvation. That interpretation would be contrary to the whole teaching and mission of Jesus. Now that the disciples are starting to grasp what Jesus’ empire is all about, they have a responsibility to teach, preach and heal. They have a responsibility to share the Good News with others.

Most churches have some form of evangelization committee. A sign in the driveway of our church reads, “You are now entering the mission field.” Maybe it should read, “You have left one mission field and are entering another.” Evangelization has to be an inside job. Those who have been given the gift of understanding what Jesus is really all about, have a responsibility to evangelize within the church community as it currently exists as well as beyond that community.

What is Jesus all about? Is he the personal savior who guarantees my right to eternal life? Is he the preacher of the prosperity Gospel that tells us that we will be blessed with material wealth if we accept him as our Lord and Savior? Is he the referee in the sky who helps some people score touchdowns or make critical three point baskets? Just who is Jesus?

We have to go back to Jesus’ time. Jesus was born into a country that felt the oppression of the Roman Empire and the priestly caste in Israel. The crowd was mainly made up of tenant farmers and indentured servants. Heavy taxes and tithes kept them in oppression. Jesus let them know right off the bat what he was about. He had come to give sight (physical and spiritual) to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to set captives free. He could not have been any clearer about his mission. Jesus entire life was a journey to closer union with Abba God through loving service to the disciples, the crowd, the Jews, and even the Romans. Jesus did not write off those who oppressed him and the crowds. He prayed for them. He taught them. He healed them. In the end, he forgave them. It cost Jesus dearly to remain faithful to the mission Abba God had given him. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus had referred to God as Abba—loving Father. On the cross, suffering the agony of suffocation, he cried out, “My God, my God (No Abba here), why have you forsaken me?” And yet, moments later, he said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” Embracing the cross has never been easy.

Nevertheless, in the final analysis, the disciples, those who lived intimately with Jesus for three years, did not get it. When the chips were down, they betrayed him, denied him, and went underground out of fear of the Romans. Only one disciple—the Apostle to the Apostles, Mary of Magdala, stood by Jesus in his final agony. Then it dawned on them. Jesus was risen and had gone before them into Galilee. Then they finally got iit and went out and preached and taught and healed as Jesus had done.

It should not surprise us then that there are still many who do not know what Jesus is about. I did not really understand the context in which Jesus preached and taught and healed until I attended a retreat with Jesuit Father John Dear. That weekend, John broke the Gospel open for me. I later told John that he had ruined my life. When he asked why, I said, “Because I can never read the Gospel the way I used to.” I understood clearly that Jesus was about more than helping me save my own soul. Jesus was about loving service. Jesus was about compassion for the crowds suffering the woes of human misery. “Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Welcome the stranger. Care for the sick. Visit the imprisoned.”

Jesus is about coming into a deeper relationship with Abba God through the prayer of contemplation. When the Hebrews were all stirred up about the Egyptians forces that were pursuing them, Moses told them that the only thing they had to do was, “Be still.” The Psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” We need to be still and know that God is God. We need to trust that God is a loving God who cares for us and cares deeply for us. Daily we need to show up and place ourselves in God’s loving and healing presence.

Anchored in the hope of the promise that all things will be made new, we then live out what we know—we are people of the towel and basin. We are committed to loving service to one another. Translated this means that we are very involved in the world because we have to be compassionate as our God is compassionate. We must do what we can to alleviate human suffering and human misery. We have to get our hands dirty with health care reform, immigration reform, putting an end to the death penalty, witnessing against abortion, genocide and the indiscriminate killing of noncombatants. We have to promote a culture of life in a culture of death.

Here we can all go back to our stories, our stories about liberation from “Egypt.” I think of my Irish and German forbears. God delivered them from oppression in their native countries and brought them to the Land of Promise. Knowing that we have been delivered from the oppression of our Egypts, we bear a responsibility to the crowd. All too often those who have been liberated turn around and do unto others what has been done unto them.

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, encouraged the Irish people to break the cycle of violence.  She reminded the people of the horrors of the Great Hunger—the genocide that had been visited upon them. She told them to remember it and to work to alleviate those who are oppressed today. She was telling them to act on the Goods News of liberation from oppression. Jesus has come to set us free. We are his hands, his voice, his eyes, his ears,  and his feet today.

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