Sunday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Commentary on Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

The theme of today’s readings is Jesus as the model of a good shepherd. We see him teaching, healing and, in the continuation of today’s Gospel next week, feeding. At the opening of the Gospel, we see Jesus inviting his disciples to go with him to a quiet place to rest and have some quiet. Yet, when they get to their chosen destination, they find that the crowds have gone ahead of them and are awaiting their arrival.

We see here an example of the kind of tension that exists in the life of every committed Christian. On the one hand, there is the need to draw away to a quiet place and to recharge one’s batteries, to reflect on and evaluate what one has been doing and to regenerate one’s spiritual energy. At the same time, there are constant demands on our commitment to serve. We need to respond generously and empathetically to where there is real need.

The emphasis is on ‘real need’ and not just on the demands of others, or our own desire to be in demand. This calls for discernment. There will be times when, with difficulty, we know we should say ‘Yes’. There will be other times when, in spite of the criticism it may generate, we ought to say ‘No’. We need to be available but there is no absolute availability because we are limited in the quality service we can give.

In the life of Jesus, we see him at times leaving the people, in spite of their demands, and going away to pray. In today’s situation, although he had intended to have a quiet time with his disciples, it was clear that the needs of the people called for a positive response. They were like ‘sheep without a shepherd’. They needed to be taught and they needed to be fed. Jesus did both. The feeding was both for body and spirit.

We, as shepherds, like Jesus need to be free and unencumbered either by material or mental or emotional or spiritual baggage. We, too, are called to be shepherds; we are called to teach, heal and to feed. But, if we are to do this effectively, we need also to set aside time for resting and renewal.

We live today in a hectic world where the cry “I have no time!” is constantly heard by priest and lay person alike. Yet, when we think about it, we have so much time to watch television and movies (consider the value of much of what we watch!). We have so much time to read the news or to go shopping or just to gossip about useless things. Still, we have no time to pray and reflect and renew our life vision.

Conveying the message
As shepherds, we have a message to convey. And what is that message? It is the same message that Jesus brought – the Good News about making the Kingdom a reality in our world. That Kingdom can be described in many ways. In today’s Second Reading from the letter to the Ephesians, it is described as following in the footsteps of Jesus:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, abolishing the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

May we say that that is an accurate description of our Christian lives?

Bad Shepherds?
To what extent could we be said to be ‘bad’ shepherds? In today’s First Reading, Jeremiah says:

It is you who have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.

This we cannot do!

It is time for us now to join the Good Shepherd in bringing a scattered and divided flock back together, to break down the barriers that divide and separate people from each other – whether that is on the level of the nation, a race or ethnic group, on the level of religion or social class, or simply bringing back into the fold those who because of social stigma or disease are consistently kept to the margins of our society. Only in this way will the Peace of Christ become a reality in our hearts and in our societies and in our Church.

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