Probably the common complaint that is ever made about a sermon is that it is too long. While people do complain about boring sermons, or complicated sermons,, or other things, people seem to be most concerned about the LENGTH of sermons.
The Lord Jesus, I would suggest to you, had a different set of priorities, and I think the final verse of today’s Gospel makes that clear:
He came ashore and saw the crowds “harassed and dejected”(c.f. Mt 9:36), “and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”(Mk 6:34). The key fact I want to draw your attention to, however, is what He DID when “He took pity of them”: “He set himself to teach them at some LENGTH”.
He gave them a LONG sermon BECAUSE He took pity on them.
TEACHING is what Jesus came to earth to do. Yes, He came to die for our sins; and to establish the Sacraments and His Church as the means for us to encounter Him down the ages. But TEACHING is an essential part of what He came to do.
And what did He come to teach? He came to teach us the TRUTH. Truth being something so essential to His work that He identified Himself with it: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”(Jn 14:6), He said. Not the truth about football or farming or any other thing that is a PART of life but about life ITSELF: about what “Life” is about, about the “Way” to live, and He put these two together with “Truth” as an indivisible whole.
(pause) Many people today deny there is any such thing as “truth” –it’s all just a matter of opinion they say, or it’s all relative, or the ‘truth’ for you is not the ‘truth’ for me.
Famously, when the Lord said that He had come to witness to the Truth, Pontius Pilate scornfully said, “What is truth?”(Jn 18:38).
Philosophically, the attitude of “scepticism” has dominated much of Western thinking since the 16th Century, with thinkers sceptical of any claim to know the truth.
More recently, the philosophy of Nihilism, a word derived from the Latin for “nothing”, claims not merely that we cannot know the truth but that there is no truth.
Now, it can be noted that these claims are self-contradictory:
The Skeptic's claim that “No-one can know whether something is true” is itself a claim to know that at least that that statement is true -which would then be contradicted.
Similarly, the Nihilist claim that “There is no truth” is itself a statement claiming to be true, which would be a self-contradiction.
But, more existentially, these denials of truth have an immediate effect on our lives:
To believe there is no truth results in the phenomenon of despair –there can be no hope unless there is meaning and purpose, unless there is truth. I’m sure many of us know people who think life in general is pointless, and that their own life in particular is pointless –it’s not a happy state to be in. And this is why truth is not only ‘true’ but IMPORTANT –our happiness depends on us knowing the truth.
Our happiness DEPENDS on us knowing the truth. That’s why, to come back to that scene in the Gospel, when Jesus saw the crowds and “took pity on them” He TAUGHT them –because they needed the truth to be happy.
So the next time we find ourselves grumbling at a long sermon let us remind ourselves that a priest of Christ has that Truth to impart to us, and be grateful for that much at least!