Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
Like sheep without a shepherd; without leadership, disoriented and without direction; the Lord appointing new shepherds for them. The readings this Sunday focus our attention on Christ the Shepherd, who fulfils the prophecy of Jeremiah: a Messiah who is compassionate, who is truly concerned about the life and wellbeing of his flock; who gathers the scattered, feeds the hungry, provides their needs and leads them to the Father. The first reading makes us aware of a serious lack of good 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 good and compassionate shepherd to care for his flock. The shepherd will be like the one depicted in the popular 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 message offers a sharp contrast to the image of the shepherds in the First Reading. While these shepherds have scattered and neglected the sheep, Jesus in the Gospel passage 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, hunger for instruction; good people looking for direction; parents concerned about a troubled child; a man stripped of dignity due to unemployment; a woman facing pregnancy alone; a couple facing a relationship gone wrong, and children suddenly discovering that a parent is terminally ill. There are also people looking for answers and meaning in life. All these are like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus invites us to respond to these needs in our ministry. The seriousness of the matter is that parishioners come seeking nourishment, care, compassion and answers but go back home empty. 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 teaches us the value of being able to pause and reflect on our ministry; to go away to a deserted place alone with Him to pray, but also be prepared to accept the possibility of our rest and privacy being invaded by the needs of those we must serve. 3) We are challenged through our compassion to care for neglected and gather the scattered back to the fold listening to their concerns and helping them to feel welcome and wanted in the community of believers.
©2018 John S. Mbinda