Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34
Like sheep without a shepherd; without leadership, disoriented and without direction. These phrases help to capture the central message of this Sunday. But first a story. There is a story about a policeman in a big city, who stops a man in a car with a sheep in the front seat. "What are you doing with that sheep?" The police man asks, "You should take it to the zoo." The following week, the same policeman sees the same man with the sheep again in the front seat, with both of them wearing sunglasses. The policeman pulls him over. "I thought you were going to take that sheep to the zoo!" The man replies, "I did. They told me there were no shepherds and I was afraid that the sheep would die without a shepherd!” I tell this story because the readings this Sunday focus our attention on a compassionate Messiah, truly concerned about the life and wellbeing of his flock; a shepherd who gathers the scattered, feeds the hungry, provides their needs and leads them to the Father. The first reading makes us deeply aware of a serious lack of compassionate shepherds during the time of the Prophet Jeremiah. In the absence of such leadership and service, people become quickly misled and disoriented, without direction or purpose. In the days of Jeremiah, the nation of Judah had just faced defeat and deportation because its leaders had failed to care for the people. Jeremiah's prophecy is that God will someday raise a compassionate shepherd to care for his flock. The shepherd will be like the one depicted in Psalm 23: a shepherd who guides the flock to “still waters” where the sheep drink without fear; a shepherd who risks his life to secure the flock.
The Gospel passage uses the metaphor of the shepherd to portray a sharp contrast between the shepherds of old in the first reading and Jesus. While these shepherds have scattered and neglected the sheep, Jesus in the Gospel gathers and cares for them by nourishing them. On seeing the crowd Jesus “took pity on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them many things". Jesus draws our attention to the reality of today’s pastoral ministry where so many people in every parish today, just like sheep are disoriented, undernourished and defenceless. They hunger for nourishment. Many good people are looking for direction and answers to the meaning in life. All these are images of sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus invites us to respond to their needs with compassion in our ministry. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are challenged to imitate the compassion of Jesus as well as the preparedness to listen to the issues parishioners are dealing with in order to respond to their struggles; 2) Jesus draws our attention to the reality of today’s pastoral ministry where so many people in every parish today, just like sheep without a shepherd are without direction, undernourished and therefore defenceless. 3) We are challenged through our compassion to care for neglected and to gather the scattered back to the fold by listening to their concerns and helping them to feel welcome and wanted in the Christian community of believers.
©2015 John S. Mbinda