This week the Church celebrates the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time with a look at a messianic prophecy from Jeremiah and the beginnings of its fulfillment in Mark’s Gospel. Jeremiah blames the misfortunes of Israel on the faithlessness of it’s leaders but he foresees the coming of the ideal shepherd who will faithfully lead God’s people. In the second reading, Paul reminds us of the unity that we all have in Christ. Our actions should reflect that unity in person-to-person care for each other. While these texts may seem to be most applicable to the church’s leadership, all of us who claim to be members of God’s people are reminded of our own personal responsibility. In many ways each of us is a shepherd to someone. We all have at least one other person (usually many) that we can influence and are meant to help nurture and guard in the journey of life. We influence our children, spouses, family members and friends every day. Even those of us who are most alone have strangers who see our actions and can be influenced by the way we act. The way in which we live our lives is the only gospel that some people will ever read. Today we are reminded to take that responsibility seriously. Which of us would want to be classified with the bad shepherds rebuked by Jeremiah?
First Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6
1 Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. 2 Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. 3 I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. 4 I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.
5 Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”
NOTES on First Reading:
* 23:1-4 God here contrasts himself with the false rulers who have governed His people for their own selfish ends. The image of the good shepherd is applied to God, himself. He is expected to appoint worthy rulers in the times of restoration. All the last kings of Judah met tragic ends.
A similar but longer oracle is found in Ezek 34.
* 23:5 This is usually taken to be a prophecy that a messianic King will arise from the line of David who will rule over both the northern and southern kingdoms, Judah and Israel, with the justice of the Lord, fulfilling all the kingly ideals.
“The days are coming,” is a formula for calling attention to a very solemn proclamation.
“Righteous shoot” and the synonymous expression in Isa 11:1 became a classic term for the Messiah (Zech 3:8; 6:12).
* 23:6 Both Judah and Israel will share in the salvation to be brought by the expected king.
“The Lord our justice” is probably an ironic wordplay on the name of the weak King Zedekiah (“The Lord is justice”). The messianic King will be in reality what Zedekiah is in name only.
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:13-18
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, 15 abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 2:13 Here Paul uses spatial imagery (see Isa 57:19 and Zech 6:15) to present the change in the believer’s spiritual situation as a result of Christ’s death. In Paul’s theology (See Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20), the reconciliation achieved through the death of Jesus brought peace and union with God. In Ephesians this understanding of reconciliation was expanded to include peace and unity between Jews and Gentiles.
* 2:14-16 Many scholars think that these verses comprise a fragment of an early Christian hymn.
* 2:14 The dividing wall is usually seen as being the barrier between Jews and Gentiles but some have suggested that Paul has in mind the barrier between God and His people.
* 2:15 The new humanity created in Christ has been reconciled to God through the cross of Christ. Paul writes of the two being forged into one by Christ.
* 2:16 The one new person is the one new people of God that are formed by and in Christ, the Church. Both Jews and Gentiles are together in forming the one new mature body of Christ.
* 2:17 See Isa 57:19 in which God sends His peace to the far and near for an earlier expression of this idea.
* 2:18 It is this Spirit that binds us together in Christ and gives us our new relationship with Jesus, with God, the Father, and with each other.
Gospel Reading: Mark 6: 30-34
30 The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. 32 So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. 33 People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.
34 When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
NOTES on Gospel:
* 6:30-34 There is some argument for making these verses a part of the following story (“Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes”.) Even though there is some preparation for the story that follows, these verses have an obvious relationship with the missionary charge of 6:6b-14 and they form a sandwich with that section around 6:14-29. These verses also underscore the disciples’ participation in Jesus’ ministry as well as the people’s enthusiasm for Jesus and His compassion for them.
* 6:30 The word, “apostles,” is not used anywhere else in Mark’s Gospel. It is generally a post-resurrection term. It may have been used here simply in contrast to use of “disciples” for the disciples of John in 6:29.
* 6:31 Here, the Gospel presents the apostles as a people of a new exodus.
* 6:33 The people on foot arrive before Jesus and the disciples in the boat, thus setting up the situation for the multiplication of the loaves and fishes which follows a few verses later.
* 6:34 “Sheep not having a Shepherd” refers to Numbers 27:17, Jer 50:6, 1 Kings 22:17.