Yesterday was Black Friday. It gets its name from the fact that the amount of shopping that goes on today usually puts businesses in the black. However, to me the description “black” always has a different connotation. It is the festival of consumerism, the feast of the god of this world. Not that shopping or buying gifts is bad; but the greed encouraged by society and manifested today throughs a black pall over any sense of generosity or love.

In our New Testament Challenge passage for today (Mark 6:30-52) we hear our Lord tell the disciples:

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat (6:31).

The press of the crowds even disturbed our Lord. He saw that the constant coming and going of people, the constant stream of people in distress, illness, sins all in need of healing was wearing down the disciples. So they planned to get away from the crowd for some “spiritual battery recharging.”

To their surprise, the crowds figured out where they were going and beat them to the place. But, instead of chasing them away, our Lord had pity on them.

…and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (6:34)

The desert place turned out to be as busy as every other place. But our Lord doesn’t chase them away. He doesn’t complain about the crowd. His first reaction is love and compassion. And he begins to heal their souls through his teaching.

But what about the desert place and the promised quiet. Our Lord shows us that the desert place is not necessarily some physical location (although it can be; we see him going up into the mountain alone to pray in 6:46); rather the desert place can even exist in the midst of the crowds. We need to retreat to the desert place in our heart, the place where the healing words of Christ give us rest and refreshment. Even if we go out into the crowds on Black Friday, we do not need to let our spiritual concentration become distracted. Our hearts can still be at peace. While we walk through malls or stand in the endless checkout lines, the Jesus Prayer can fill our hearts and minds and pour a refreshing balm over our souls. There will be a lot of jostling, a lot of rude people shoving ahead of us. But keeping our hearts and minds centered on our Lord through the Jesus Prayer will help us retain our patience and calm.

Multiplication of the loaves and fish

Not only does our Lord refresh the hearts of the crowd with his words, he also feeds them. There in the desert place, where there is no food, the disciples bring him five loaves and two fish. The poverty of the desert is suddenly transformed into paradise, the place where food is produced on its own. This food from heaven is also ours in the desert of our souls. Our Lord can transform our souls into a paradise; he can take our small offering of a few loaves of bread and transform them into the nourishment we need to maintain our spiritual strength.