16th Sunday O T Year B
Jer.23:1-6, Eph.2:13-18, Mk.6:30-34
A pastor is called to attend to his dying parishioner, a notorious criminal who couldn’t care less about the things of God or his spiritual life.
The pastor arrives and is surprised to see the dying man frantically turning the pages of a big Bible. Supposing he could be of help, he asked, “What are you searching for?” And the dying man coldly replies, “Loopholes.”
Today’s gospel is a good one for those who read the Bible looking for loopholes. It gives us two apparently contradictory images of Jesus.
First we have the image of Jesus as a man of firm, uncompromising, and even insensitive personality who turns his back on a needy and helpless crowd of people who need his help and takes off on a break once it was time for a break.
Then we have the image of Jesus as a caring, empathetic and compassionate Jesus who calls off his well-deserved rest to attend to a noisy crowd of clients when they should not.
The average reader of the Bible faced with this dilemma is likely to see in Jesus the character that best suits his or her own personality.
Today’s readings explain how God, like a good shepherd, redeems His people and provides for them.
They also challenge us to use our God-given authority in the family, in the Church and in society, with fidelity and responsibility.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah, thunders against Israel’s careless leaders – the king, some priests and some court prophets because they have shown no concern for the poor.
The prophet also foretells the rise of a good, new shepherd in the family line of David. Today’s Good Shepherd Psalm (Ps.23) affirms David’s faith and trust in God, the “Good Shepherd.”
The second reading introduces Jesus as the shepherd of both the Jews and the Gentiles and explains how Jesus, the good shepherd, reconciled all of us with His Father by offering himself on the cross.
Paul also speaks about another reconciliation between the Jews and the Gentiles, brought about by Jesus who has accepted both into the same Christian brotherhood.
Today’s Gospel passage presents the sympathetic and merciful heart of Jesus who lovingly invites his apostles to a desolate place for some rest.
Jesus had sent his apostles on their first mission, which was one of healing, teaching and preaching. When they returned, they were no doubt excited by the experience. They had witnessed at first hand, the power of God’s Word.
Nonetheless, they were hungry, exhausted, and in need of rest, both physical and spiritual. In fact, Jesus was eager to hear about their missionary adventures as they proudly shared their experiences.
But Jesus, too, was in need of a break from the crowds who were constantly pressing on him, demanding his attention and healing. Hence, he led the Apostles by boat to a “deserted place” on the other side of the Lake for a period of rest and sharing.
Now what does it mean: “Sheep without shepherd.” When Jesus and the apostles came ashore there was a large crowd waiting for them.
Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for those people who were “sheep without a shepherd.” Here the reference to the shepherd was probably to religious leaders, because at this time the Jews were an occupied people and the real political power was in the hands of the Romans.
This brief description, “sheep without a shepherd,” is also dense with Biblical allusions. Like the people of Israel, the crowds were in the desert where they would receive not only miraculous food (next Sunday’s Gospel), but guidance and instruction, just as the Torah had been given in the desert of Sinai.
“Sheep without shepherd” will perish because: First, they cannot find their way and will probably end up eaten by a wolf or other carnivores.
Second, they cannot find pasture and food and the third, they have no defense against the dangers which threaten them. Jesus’ first acts with this shepherd-less sheep was to teach them. [v.34]
And then to feed them [vv.35-40] and finally to protect his closest disciples who were also His sheep from the storm [vv. 45-52].
This text affirms Jesus’ extraordinary availability and his compassion for the needy. It teaches us that a Christian should be ready to sacrifice his time and even his rest in the service of the Gospel.
A story from the life of Mother Teresa shows her love for lonely and unwanted people, the “sheep without a shepherd,” who, while materially well-off, are sometimes “the poorest of the poor.”
On one occasion, she visited a well-run nursing home where good food, medical care and other facilities were offered to the elderly.
As she moved among the old people, she noticed that none of them smiled unless she touched them and smiled at them first. She also noticed that many of them kept glancing expectantly towards the door while listening to her.
When she asked one of the nurses why this was so, she was told: “They are looking for a visit from someone related to them.
But, except for an occasional visit, birthday gift or a get-well card, this never happens.” Jesus invites us, in today’s Gospel, to show concern, mercy and compassion for such sheep without a shepherd.
We, Christians must be people of prayer and action. The Christian life is a continuous passage from the presence of God to the presence of people and back again.
Prayer is essentially listening to God and talking to Him. One of our main problems is that we do not truly allow God the opportunity to speak to us. We also do not know how to “be still and to listen.”
Hence, we are often in danger of refusing to allow God to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength. In addition, we do not set aside enough time for Him to speak to us and for us to speak to God.
How can we shoulder life’s burdens if we have no contact with the Lord of Life? How can we do God’s work unless we rely on God’s strength?
And how can we receive that strength unless we pray to him individually, in the family and as a parish community in the Church and receive His grace by participating in the Holy Mass and through the reception of the Sacraments?
However, we must never seek God’s fellowship in order to avoid the fellowship of men but always in order to prepare for it.
From our reflection on today’s Gospel, let us remind ourselves that the Christian life consists of meeting with God in the secret place so that we may serve people more effectively in the market place.
The Church has the double responsibility of teaching and feeding. People today find it difficult to balance those two aspects of the Christian life.
Some apparently believe that the social ministry of the Church is all that is needed to make Christ present in the world. Others seem to believe that the Church’s major concern should be preaching the Gospel, rather than feeding the hungry and healing the sick.
The Church’s duty, so the argument goes, is to spread the Gospel and provide for public worship. Both views are one-sided. There can be no true Christianity without the proclamation of the Gospel.
Teaching the Word of God is essential to a Christian community. But that is only half of the story. So let us be good Christian in the secret place and in the market place.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.