Sunday Reflection: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
(Jer 23:1-6 / Eph 2:13-18 / Mk 6:30-34)
Last Thursday, some youth invited me to have lunch at a resto near St. Columban Church, where they serve rice-toppings at a very affordable price. It wasn't just the price that interested us. The food was also excellent, considering that it's a street-side eatery. While we were waiting for our order, two children aged around 9 and 14 approached the small table where I was seated. Both sat in one chair across my table, begging for money. I asked the elder one why they aren't in school, as they were wearing public school uniform shorts. The elder one, JK, told me their classes are in the afternoon, leaving them free in the morning--free to beg for money. I asked them, why beg? The elder one said his parents were poor. His mother was a laundry woman, his father works as a carpenter, and he's the eldest of four children. In poverty, his parents couldn't give him any "baon" for school, so he begs to relieve his parents of some more financial obligations toward him.
Somehow I felt there was something unique about JK. He's street smart, and his out-of-school begging really proceeded from a heart with a love for his own family. As the eldest of four siblings, he felt he's also responsible for his family, if not to earn something for the family, at least to minimize their day-to-day expenses. He wasn't bashful in proudly saying that he's the Top 7 in his class at Jackson.
Other than offering both of them 20 pesos. I gave JK my name and my mobile number. I told him to give the paper to his parents and contact me. I told JK I was willing to offer his parents some jobs of a higher pay, to help a bit his family, in the hope that JK would stick more to school and would not feel the need to go on begging in the streets of Olongapo.
Then JK lowered his head. Using his slightly dirty shirt, he tried to wipe the tears that were starting to flow.
It was then that compassion started to fill my heart. Somehow I felt what he was feeling. Somehow I found myself in his shoes. My memory was even flooded with events in the past when my brother and I would find ways to "work" to earn something to minimize the financial worries of our parents. We'd sell ice candies our mother would prepare along the dusty streets of our barrio, or at the tricycle station in Brgy. West Dirita in San Antonio. We'd sell "pilipit" and doughnuts that our neighbor would make, offering us kids a small share of the income.
I'd told him I'll try to help his family the best way I can, to keep him away from the hazards of the streets of Olongapo. And that's what I did, when, eventually I was able to meet his family in their home, which is actually just walking distance from St. Columban's.
Compassion. In the world filled with wounded people--wounded by poverty, exploitation, and neglect--compassion is like a healing balm soothing the pain, a remedy for the aches and worries. Compassion gives comfort to the recipient, and inner joy to the giver.
Compassion is that force of gravity that binds the problem to the solution, the suffering to the comfort, the wound to its remedy, the sick to the doctor, the sinner to his redeemer. Yes, the sheep to the shepherd.
Indeed, compassion is what makes the heart of the shepherd, both genuine and good. Compassion is the essence of a Good Shepherd.
Compassion is one thing that the evil shepherds don't have in today's First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah.
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.
These shepherds being condemned by Yahweh have no room for compassion in their heart. They never really cared for the sheep. Jeremiah reminds the people that Yahweh himself shall shepherd the people, and gather them together so that they have no cause for fear and trembling.
But still, Yahweh, shall send someone to shepherd his people.
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
as king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In the Second Reading of today, St. Paul says that this righteous and just shepherd is none other than Jesus Christ himself. He is the one, from the line of David, who shall bring peace in a troubled world. Jesus Christ will unite the people of God in peace, and in him they shall find union with the Father in heaven.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
We see this clearly in our Gospel reading for today. Jesus didn't just feel compassion towards his disciples who labored:
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
He also felt compassion for the many people who came, and looked for them, finding in them the painful need to be guided by an able shepherd.
The heart of Jesus was filled with compassion. It was filled with pity for the people.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Perhaps this world would be a better place if there were more compassionate shepherds around us. What do we feel when people are mistreated? What fills our heart when people are living in abject poverty? Who do we see in the faces of dirty children begging for food and money in the streets? Do we even feel the pain of others, especially when they are hurting? Do we experience the ache, even of a stranger who is wounded, physically and emotionally?
Does our heart have a room for compassion at all?
Perhaps if we have more place for compassion in our heart, this world would be a better place--because there will always be someone who will help to someone in need.