Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ 22 July 2018
In first-century Palestine, there were fewer than three or four large cities like Jerusalem and 90% of the population lived outside the large cities in hamlets or villages with only a small number of residents. The population of Nazareth, for example, may have been no more than 150 and could have been as small as 50. These small settlements were not packed densely close to each other. There was a significant distance between them, and this uninhabited space was generally viewed as “deserted, or a lonely place.”
In our Gospel today, Jesus invited his disciples to “come away” to such a “deserted or lonely place”. To rest, he said, but I think Jesus knew better. After being with Jesus for a while, the disciples probably understood also he meant.
There is something about deserted and lonely places that opens us up, I think. There is something about great wide-open spaces that stretches the heart: a sky full of stars, the open sea, a towering mountain covered with snow, a mirror lake, a nearby stream or river, or even an empty room. I remember the first time I saw the Milford Sound: the towering mountain peaks, the ink-dark water of sea, the majestic cliffs and falls, I stood stunned and speechless, awed by the beauty of creation and I was drawn immediately to spontaneous prayer and praise.
When I was in the Far North last month, I thought to myself that I had “been there, done that” when I was assigned in Thames, Coromandel. Yet the familiar but haunting scene of the empty surroundings and silent presbytery – away from the ‘never-ending’ construction noise of downtown Auckland CBD had an instant effect on me. The empty spaces opened up my own space inside–a space where I have not lingered in days or months given the frenzy of my recent schedules. The silence summoned a similar silence within, and the solitude about empty spaces drew me to my own door of solitude–and it was ajar.
Silence and solitude can be a very scary thing. It can be pretty threatening, but those who have experienced them before know that these can lead them out of the ever-thickening woods of their lives into that clearing where they can see God’s light. Those who have seen the clearing also understand that if they wish to catch a glimpse of God, this is where they should go.
Even now in the concrete jungle of Auckland and our sophisticated digital generation, I believe that there are ‘deserted and lonely’ places in our hearts where God dwells and lingers. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his General Audience in Rome, 2012, said, “For us, who are so frequently concerned with operational effectiveness and with the results … we achieve, the prayer of Jesus is a reminder that we need to stop, to experience moments of intimacy with God, ‘detaching ourselves’ from the turmoil of daily life in order to listen, to return to the ‘root’ which nourishes and sustains our existence. One of the most beautiful moments of Jesus’ prayer is when, faced with the sickness, discomfort and limitations of his interlocutors, He addresses His Father in prayer, thus showing those around him where they must go to seek the source of hope and salvation”.
Lord, help us to seek those lonely, open, and deserted places in our lives. Grant that we make time for the silence and solitude we need to see and experience you.
Fr Sherwin Lapaan