The crowds only grow, desperate to hear Jesus and to experience his help and healing. The crowds only grow. And what does Jesus do? It’s quite revealing. He withdraws. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last that he withdraws. Jesus would minister mightily, and then he would withdraw to deserted places – note the plural: deserted places – and he would pray. The cry is not the call. The cry for help is not one-in-the-same with our call to respond. It certainly was not for Jesus. There was always more to do. Jesus here is showing his truly-human side, without infinite resources, and he practices a kind of “life rhythm” clearly knowing when he must withdraw to pray.
How is Jesus praying at these times? Two ways. I imagine he is “disgorging” the heaviness of need – the anguishing pain and overwhelming despair and brokenness – that he experiences in his contact with so many people in need. We call that kind of “disgorging” the prayer of oblation, handing to God what is too much for us to carry. Without that prayer of oblation, we risk becoming infected by what has affected us. A prayer of oblation. And then I imagine Jesus praying for replenishment, for the restoration of what has been spent. Without this prayer of oblation and restoration – without Jesus’ doing that, and without our doing that – there will be nothing left to give or to live. Worse than that, the “nothing left,” if unaddressed, will eventually become a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, and that vacuum will be filled. If the vacuum is not filled by what is good and right, it will be filled by what is bad and broken. Very risky.
Bernard of Clairvaux, the great twelfth-century French abbot, clearly knew about crowds and people with overwhelming needs in his own day.* Bernard has a strong admonition particularly for leaders of the church, but, for that matter, what he says can be applied to anyone with eyes to see and a heart to care for the needs of the world that surrounds us. The endless needs. St. Bernard says, if you are wise, you will be more like a reservoir than a canal. A water canal, he says, spreads abroad the water as it receives it. A canal is a “pass through.” A reservoir, on the other hand, waits until it is filled before overflowing. A reservoir, without loss to itself, shares its superabundant water. “In the church at the present day” – this is Bernard speaking about twelfth-century Europe but it is equally true for us today – Bernard says, “in the church at the present day, we have many canals but few reservoirs.”
The cry is not the call. Be a reservoir.
* Bernard of Clairvaux, O.Cist. (1090-1153) was a French Benedictine abbot who became the primary leader in a reforming movement, which became the Cistercian order.
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