Text: Mark 6:14-29
After 18 days in the cave, the entire Thai soccer team was rescued. Hooray! Hallelujah! We join people around the world in celebration of bringing the 12 young boys and their soccer coach out safely from the flooded cave. As a local translator who worked for 10 days at the press centre near the cave said, “They are not only the kids of Chiang Rai or the kids of Thailand. They have become the world’s kids.” She also says, it has felt like the whole world was rooting for the boys. The incredible international teamwork achieved mission impossible. There were no boundaries – no race, no skin colour, no religion, no language barrier – but only one goal to save lives. We praise for the successful rescue operation despite the very difficult journey. We send out our thoughts and prayers for the family and friends of Sama Gunan, 38, a former Thai navy diver, who volunteered in the cave, lost consciousness and died while delivering oxygen air tanks. The whole story seems like a miracle. Perhaps this story reminds us that a miracle is always possible when we work together for the common good. Richard Harris was a key member of the team of international experts involved in the rescue mission, and was the last person to exit the cave. He said the real heroes were the boys. Turns out, the boys in the cave were taught meditation by their coach while they waited to be rescued. The Thai coach was asked how he could help the kids stay alive inside the cave. He said when he was a monk he used to practice Deep Meditation in the cave for months. So he knows how to keep everyone’s mind calm and how to survive in the cave.
There were many beautiful moments. What struck me most was the moment when the classmates of the boys were singing in support of the group and the rescue teams. It was a brief moment as I was listening to the radio in the car. A familiar tune of the song captured my attention, and I couldn’t’ help but sing ever since. The friends of the boys were singing a gospel song that I grew up singing, “We Are One in the Bond of Love.” It goes like this. “We are one in the bond of love. We are one in the bond of love. We have joined our spirit with the Spirit of God. We are one in the bond of love.” The power of love expressed by the friends came to my ears through the airwaves crossing more than 10,000 km. I found myself united with the friends singing the same song of love, praying for the safe rescue. I love this world where we can still experience such oneness despite everything even if momentarily because it can change everything. Those classmates did not keep silent or worry about the worst case scenario. They were singing for hope in the midst of uncertainty when officials suggested that the rescue could take months. The boys inside the cave remained open to any possibilities practicing the deep mediation in the dark and scary place. This is what gospel looks like in 2018. What more can I say? Honestly, what they have shown to the world – the demonstration of faith, hope and love – preaches more loudly than any words. What the Thai cave rescue story teaches us is that a different world is possible when we choose love despite fear, hope despite danger, and faith despite uncertainty.
Unlike the happy ending story of the Tham Luang cave rescue, today’s gospel reading has a tragedy, the death of John the Baptizer. There is a feast in the palace. King Herod throws a birthday party for the elite, the powerful. Herodias’ daughter enters the banquet hall and dances for the guests. The king says to the girl, “Ask me anything. I’ll give you anything you want.” She goes back to her mother and says, “What should I ask for?” “Ask for the head of John the Baptizer.” That puts the king in a dilemma. On the one hand, he shows respect for John the Baptizer, on the other hand, he can’t lose face with his guests. He gives way and grants her wish. Does he have a choice? Absolutely. There are infinite possibilities to turn things around. It is the need for power and control that contributes his inability to choose what’s right.
This, however, is a story before the story. The feast which ends up in tragedy provides the context for what kind of world they live in. But that’s not the whole picture. The story which comes after is what completes the whole picture. That story is also about feast, but of a different kind. It takes place in a deserted place. It is given for the great crowd. All are welcome. They are all fed. There is even food left over. There is life abundant among the crowd. Five loaves and two fish are good enough to make a miracle when they are shared. Nobody goes hungry. No one is left behind. Everyone learns through firsthand experiences that they all have something to give. Staying together turns scarcity into abundance. They are invited to choose life despite death, compassion despite cruelty, and sharing despite monopoly.
Ever since I heard the classmates singing “We are One in the Bond of Love”, on the radio it is stuck in my head. The song is the reminder that we’ve got something to live for even in a dark and scary place like the cave; we’ve got something to share even in a deserted place. In the end, it’s not the feast in the palace, but the feast in the desert that can save us.