16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY, B THE COMPASSIONATE SHEPHERD

“… and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

This is the month of July. Now is the end of the school year. God has blessed us this year with an amazing summer weather of blazing sunshine and warm breeze. Everyone must be feeling like having a wonderful holiday: to take some time off work, go out of the usual routine and be with friends, family and loved ones. We all need a time like this when we can relax more, refresh and refuel; share our experiences with others, especially those we love and listen to them as well. This is exactly what Jesus suggested to His apostles in Gospel of today (Mark 6: 30-34), when they returned from their “field experience.”

“You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” This response demonstrates the humanity and humaneness of Jesus and points to the fact that Jesus was satisfied with the reports of the apostles. He was   aware of their possible exhaustion and the need for rest in order to recuperate. This was to be a time of reflection and sharing in the peaceful company of the Lord. It was a time of being in His Presence. Here is what some scholars call: the rhythm of the Christian life. The authentic Christian life involves the continuous going into the presence of God from the presence of men and coming out into the presence of men from the presence of God. As Venerable Bede puts it there are two dangers that we could be exposed to as Christians: to over-work, and to under-pray. What gives effectiveness to our ministry is the ability to balance work and prayer. For as much as we have the energy to do the work of God, we need to create time to be with the God of the work. Thus there is always that need for seclusion and withdrawal from the crowd to spend time in solitude with the Lord, Who is in that secret place (Matthew 6: 6). A time like this is crucial in facing life challenges because within this milieu we can share our adversities and struggles with Him who can do all things for us. In this silence He can provides direction and guidance. This is the example our Lord Jesus gave to us by often going up to the mountain to pray: “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the, mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone” (Matthew 14:23; see also Mark 6: 46; Luke 6: 12 etc).

The first missionary journey of the apostles was overwhelming; the people were mesmerized and excited by their teachings and miracles. Mark reports that “there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time to eat.” So impressed were the people that even when the Lord and the apostles left for the lonely place, they could guess where and arrived there before them. This action of the crowd could have irritated anyone. But not the Lord! How often do ministers of God get upset that the people of God have not allowed them to rest? How often do we get angry when we feel pestered by someone who needs our help? How many times have we placed our comfort and convenience over and above the needs of the flock entrusted to us?

But the response of Jesus is that of compassion: “He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The expression “sheep without a shepherd” is an Old Testament expression (Numbers 27: 17; 1 Kings 22:17; Judith 11: 19; Jeremiah 23: 1-3; Zechariah 10:2) used to emphasise the absence of and the need for a spiritual leader in Israel. Mark depicts Jesus here as the True Shepherd of Israel as a contrast to the uncommitted and self-centred shepherds of Israel at the time of Jeremiah about whom we read about in the First Reading (Jeremiah 23: 1-6), who allowed the flock of God “to be destroyed and scattered … and go wandering and have not taken care of them.” Jesus, as the fulfillment of the promised “virtuous Branch of David” prophesied in Jeremiah and as the “Shepherd-Messiah”, sets down to gather, to teach, to heal and to guide. The crowd represents the scattered children of Israel, who now are gathered by Jesus, Who, as Paul describes in the Second Reading (Ephesians 2: 13-18) “is the peace between us … and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart.” So in Christ not only are the Jews brought together from all the countries they have been dispersed but even the Gentiles have been brought to be one with the Jews in One Spirit, faith and baptism.

Jesus is that Good Shepherd, whose praises the Psalmist sings in our Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 23). The Lord Jesus satisfies our needs, leads us to green pastures, refreshes us, guides us, comforts us, prepares a banquet for us, anoints our head with oil and ensures that His goodness and kindness follows us all the days of our lives here on earth and who died for us so that we might dwell in His own house forever and ever.

Our life as Christians is expected to be a life of constant encounter with the Lord and sharing with His people. We go to be “alone with the Alone” so that He may fill us with His strength and power with which to minister to His people. Our prayer will fail to attain its purpose if its effects do not impact the lives of others. We are called to work and to pray.

As Christians, our Lord Jesus invites us: “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” How we respond to this invitation determines the quality of our relationship with God and how much we have been able to reach out and touch the lives of others. Jesus calls to a life of relationship so that we can make His Presence and message known to the world. What must we do about it?