These two words shape who Jesus is!
The wilderness is the favorite place of Jesus to go and to be with his Father!
It is in the wilderness where he meditated in solitude how he was to bring into the world the glory of God.
It is in the wilderness where he triumphed over temptation.
It is in the wilderness, where he always saw the vast crowd who longed for his presence.
And in this crowd he found his flock!
Among his flock, Jesus healed!
For this flock, Jesus performed miracles!
This same flock by the thousands, Jesus fed!
By the jeering of this crowd He considered His flock, he was crucified and died!
The wilderness and the flock are the very life of Jesus.
The wilderness stood as a silent witness each time Jesus regenerated, rejuvenated and recharged for all of himself that he had shared and given away. It also became Jesus’ preferred venue for his disciples to rest as well as the place Jesus asked the apostles to go to for some rest.
Jesus knew that the apostles were overwhelmed of what they together had done and taught. That idea, however, was beyond the consciousness of the disciples themselves. They were simply overwhelmed to realize that what Jesus was doing (heal the sick, drive away demons, etc.) they too could do the same by the power and authority given them by Jesus himself.
Jesus then wanted for them to take a pause, keep silent and allow the immensity of their powers and tasks to sink in and retrace all those things back to the Source: God the Father. The wilderness presented itself as the best venue for such choice moments for spiritual grounding. How the wilderness allowed Jesus to commune with His Father was the very same thing Jesus desired for His disciples to experience. That place was so crucial in the salvific work.
Being with the crowd that Jesus considered His flock, on the other hand, is where Jesus became like us — a human being in need of someone to guide him. Just as how this herd of “sheep without shepherd” needed a person who can lead them, Jesus too needed His Father to lead Him. As the people needed Jesus to take a stand and accompany them, to love and nourish them, so too did Jesus need the Father for the same reasons. The relationship we see here between sheep and shepherd is mutual: as Jesus gave his needy flock a provident shepherd, the crowd in return gave Jesus a venue where he could be himself, the Son of God who had a mission to fulfill.
This is what today’s Gospel wants to teach us — that being alone in the wilderness and being among numerous people in a crowd are two opposite means through which we can ground and renew ourselves in the loving presence and guidance of God. The wilderness offers a place to empower oneself before beginning a mission and to spiritually rejuvenate after accomplishing a task. The presence of a multitude like a flock of sheep provides us with a community into which we can fulfill our Christian duty as a loving, compassionate shepherd.
However, we can conquer neither the wilderness nor the multitude without the strength of will, courageous spirit and, best of all, the resolve to allow God to make wonders through us. In short, we need to have the will to surrender to the higher power. Jesus once showed us the way when he surrendered himself to the Father for forty days, thereby overcoming the snares of the devil. In the case of today’s Gospel, aside from desiring to share with his apostles his wilderness experience, Jesus surrendered to the stirrings of his heart, allowing his own human side to surface so that he could act according to the need of the multitude. Through the lens of God’s heart, Jesus was able to see the people as “sheep without shepherd” and himself as the shepherd ready to respond to the call to mission.
Lord God, you invite us to be in the wilderness sometimes so that we can rest in your presence and renew ourselves in you. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your flock where we can experience your loving mercy and compassion. Guide us as we approach to you whether in wilderness or among your people whom you lovingly recognize as your flock needing your shepherding. Amen.