Todays Gospel is placed exactly between two banquets: the banquet of death, held by Herod during which John the Baptist was killed and the banquet of life, held by Jesus for the people in the desert.
Jesus sees that the apostles are weary after their busy mission tour, and invites them to a place of solitude where they can rest. Soon Jesus will have compassion on the crowd, but first he has compassion on his apostles, who have not even had time to eat. Discipleship must balance time for service with time for physical and spiritual renewal. The relationship of Master-Disciple differs from the relationship of professor-pupil. The pupils attend the classes of the professor on a given subject. The disciples “follow” the Master and live with him.
The people perceive that Jesus had gone to the other shore of the lake, and move in that direction to intercept Him. When Jesus arrives at his resting place, a great crowd awaits him, Jesus and the disciples have reason to be annoyed. Mark doesn’t tell us how the disciples respond, but Jesus was moved to compassion for the crowd, because they are “like sheep without a shepherd”. The word translated “compassion,”esplanchnisthe, is the word for bowels (guts), and describes a sympathetic feeling that starts in the deepest regions of a person’s being.
“Sheep without a shepherd” reminds us of the words of Ezekiel the prophet, who said, “They were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food to all the animals of the field, and were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill: yes, my sheep were scattered on all the surface of the earth; and there was none who searched or sought” ” (Ezekiel 34:5-6).