“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36).
There is much that pulls at us for our time and attention. Jesus witnessed the anxieties, struggles, pain, and feelings of being lost regarding those in his midst. Are we so different today? Jesus knows the Father, he knows the joy and fulfillment of what being in a full relationship with him entails. Jesus saw then and sees in us now how lost we are, how easily distracted and diverted we are, how many things we put before our relationship with God, and he “is moved with pity.”
Jesus’ heart goes out to us, he yearns to be one with us, he loves us, but in that very act of love, he risks. He loves us so much, that he is willing to let us choose ourselves, others, or a myriad of other pursuits over him. Jesus invites us to the joyful experience of developing a relationship with him so we can come to know his Father, while at the same time he does not impose himself on us. We are given the whole world to choose from or we can choose him. Who do we put first? Is God a priority in our life? If we find that God is at best an after-thought, or at worst a no thought, instead of getting to know God better, what is it that we are choosing over him?
Jesus invites us, but too often we miss, ignore, or do not follow through on his invitation. Too often we choose other pleasures, distractions, diversions, temptations, and/or apparent goods. With time and experience, we may come to see the emptiness of the lure of these worldly promises, as well as see that our attachments to these often lead to many of our troubles, trials, stresses, and anxieties. We may also get in touch with our feelings of unfulfillment, abandonment, and being alone, because there is only one answer to our innermost longing, and that is God.
I am not advocating for a rejection of the material world. All that God has created is good. We are human beings and a part of God’s glorious creation. Nor do I believe that we are souls trapped in this body waiting to be released upon our death. As human beings, we are a unique unity of body and soul. The key to our fulfillment is choosing to put God first and then we can better discern that which needs to fall away or how to reorder that which will stay so they are in their proper place and purpose.
Fr. Thomas Dubay writes that the “one who seeks delight in God alone finds peace and joy no matter what happens” (Dubay 1989, 154). Today might be a good day to take a moment to be still and evaluate where we are in our lives and to ponder whose we are. Jesus offers to lead us, just as he has led his disciples through the ages. Those of every age have experienced trials and tribulations and found the promises of this world fleeting. What made the difference for the saints was that they said yes to the call of the Shepherd. How will we answer the Shepherd’s invitation today?
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Dubay, S.M., Thomas. Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel on Prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989.