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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 18, 2021
Ana Cloughly, OSB, Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery, Colorado Springs, CO

“His Heart was Moved…”
For the past few months, I and my sisters have been watching the series The Chosen. The series follows the life of Jesus as a Jewish teacher. The story line draws from all four gospels and there is some back story that is not found in the gospels. The producers and writers have called in consultants to help give some historical context to lend some cultural authenticity to both the lives Jewish people and Roman occupiers in first century Palestine. (Neither I nor my community are connected with Angel Studios, the creators of The Chosen, other than we enjoy watching the series.)

As Benedictine sisters, we have a commitment to praying lectio divina as part of our daily prayer. Admittedly, some days the font of God’s word seems very dry to me. Watching The Chosen has breathed new life into my prayer and my spiritual imagination. So, how does this all relate to the gospel for today?

In today’s gospel Jesus tries to move away from the crowds in order to hear what happened to the apostles while they went out to preach and heal as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel. He and his disciples took their boats but, the people found out where Jesus was going and hurried there to meet him. “When he (Jesus) 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.” Why was Jesus’ heart moved with pity? This is where watching The Chosen has poured holy water on my sometimes dry prayer.

The people were like sheep without a shepherd. Most of the Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of salvation history, all the times when God has heard the cry of the people, the chosen people. The crowd that Jesus observed while he disembarked were an oppressed people. Roman rulers, soldiers and those complicit with the Roman occupiers, including the religious leadership in Jerusalem made life miserable for the people. Longing for the messiah, the holy one God promised drew the crowds to Jesus. They needed someone who could lead. Jesus knew firsthand what living under oppression was like. He also knew that what he taught the people would bring them hope even if what he taught was not well understood. Yet, he still adjusted his plan and taught the people.

In this particular gospel passage, what Jesus taught the people is not mentioned, only that his heart was moved with pity and taught them many things. I cannot help thinking about peoples who are oppressed today. Is my heart moved with pity? Are the hearts of those for follow Christ today moved with pity? Isaiah tells us, “So, will my message be that goes out of my mouth— it won’t return to me empty. Instead, it will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Pondering the scriptures has brought God’s loving compassion to all successive generations since the days that Jesus saw the crowd and was moved with pity. Whether I ponder the gospels through reading or through entertainment, there is room for God’s grace to move my heart. I believe we can become the just leadership Jesus was for the people of his time. We can make a difference for the oppressed people of our time. If we only listen and let God’s word open our hearts to compassion we will then see the people and their suffering.

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Sister Ana Cloughly is the Director of the Contemplative Vision Ministry at Benet Hill Monastery in Colorado Springs, CO. She facilitates courses in contemplative prayer  practices and Christian mysticism, leads group retreats and is a Spiritual Director. She is a member of the planning committee for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Federation of St. Scholastica.