Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 22, 2018
First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23: 1-6
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:13-18
Gospel: Mark 6: 30-34
Most of us in First World North America have a very idealized image of shepherds and their sheep. The notion brings up pictures of children dressed as shepherds in Christmas plays, with staffs in hand, guiding fluffy white sheep. The reality of shepherds and sheep couldn’t be further from the truth!
However, in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures the shepherd is a common metaphor for a leader-both political and religious. And the flock is a common metaphor for a community of people by village or religious belief. So, who might be shepherds that we would recognize in our own culture? Certainly, religious leaders: the Pope, Bishops, Priests; school Principals and Teachers; leaders of businesses and organizations; matriarchs and patriarchs of families; administrators of hospitals and nursing homes. It would be interesting to check out with people in such roles if they consider the shepherd metaphor applicable to themselves.
It follows that we should consider the “flocks” to which we belong: families, parishes, institutions where we work, organizations to which we belong? Twelve-step programs exhibit the importance of belonging to groups sharing the experience of recovery. There are ever so many other groups as well: motorcycle groups, people with certain illnesses, even dog owners who gather together, sharing a common experience.
The Scriptures we are given to hear on this Sunday lay out for us this important metaphor: being a shepherd. In Jeremiah, we hear chastisement for those who do not shepherd well: who mislead and scatter the flock, who do not offer care. But Jeremiah also offers a word of hope: the promise of the “Lord, our justice.” The biblical notion of the just one is of that one who is in right relationship, the good shepherd. That is: one who watches over others, offering care, meeting needs.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians aligns this good shepherd with Christ Jesus, the one who “is our peace.” What could be better or more desirable than the One who “came and preached peace to you who were far off, and peace to those who were near, for through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
It is in John’s Gospel where Jesus says: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know mine and mine know me.” But, in Mark’s Gospel for today, we have the model of Jesus who is indeed the good shepherd: inviting the exhausted disciples to “come away and rest awhile.” Thus, showing care for his closest disciples.
Mark goes on to describe a very tender moment as Jesus sees the vast crowd: “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” So moved, Jesus becomes a caring shepherd for them, teaching them many things.
No doubt we each have encountered good shepherds in our lives–those whose care for us, was a comfort, who led us to safety, or who gathered us up as a shepherd gathers the lamb in their arms. Such experience is certainly the image of our shepherd God.
There is a book by Jack Mitchell entitled: Hug Your People. He writes as the CEO of a very profitable company, and he makes suggestions to business leaders that reflect being a good shepherd. One comment on the book jacket says: “This book serves as a great and easy reminder to build right relationships with your employees. . .” Thus, like Jeremiah, the shepherd/leader is like the promised Lord, OUR JUSTICE.