19 July 2015: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 23: 1-6 Ps 23: 1-3, 3-4, 5, 6 Eph 2: 13-18 Mk 6: 30-3

Shepherds and rulers, bad and good

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all believing community members with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week the readings invite us to think about good and bad shepherds.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah criticizes the Jewish leaders for their poor shepherding of the people. The Hebrew word ra`ah means both “to shepherd” and “to rule”; this is why scripture often equates rulers and shepherds. Jeremiah’s message is direct: God will punish the bad shepherds who don’t care for God’s sheep and scatter them. The leaders’ behavior (worshiping foreign gods) and bad decisions (provoking the Babylonian empire) resulted in the Babylonians taking the Jewish people into exile. However, Jeremiah also tells the people that God, the true shepherd, will “gather the remnant” and restore them under a good shepherd from David’s line–a messiah (“anointed one”). This promised messianic shepherd will “reign and govern wisely” and “do what is just and right.”

Mark’s gospel picks up the shepherd theme. The Twelve return to Jesus in Nazareth and report on their first mission. Jesus and the Twelve travel by boat to an empty (literally “lonesome”) place or wilderness to rest. The locals figure out where they are going and show up before Jesus and the Twelve even get there. (Middle eastern culture is suspicious of groups who separate themselves from community life.) When Jesus sees the crowd, he pities (literally “to feel in his gut for”) them because they are lost, “like sheep without a shepherd,” and begins to teach them. Mark shows Jesus fulfilling God’s promise hear in Jeremiah to “raise up a branch from David’s line” who will “do what is just and right in the land.” Today’s gospel sets up next week’s gospel about Jesus’ mighty act of feeding 5,000 in the wilderness.

In today’s continuation of the letter to the Ephesians, the author explains how Christ unifies Jewish Christians and gentile Christians through his transformative death (“his blood,” “the cross”). Christ creates a single body (his mystical body or the ekklesia) without “dividing walls” that incorporates Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. For the author, the believing community unites in worship when it meets through Christ (his mystical body), and prays in the one Spirit to the Father.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and all of us to reflect on our shepherding roles. Through baptism God literally in-corporates us–makes us part of the body of Christ. Baptism also makes us part of God’s reign, anointed with the responsibility to bring forth God’s kingdom here and now. This means we share in God’s shepherding duties to those within and outside the fold. Do we rule wisely? Do we care for those entrusted to us? Do we break down the dividing walls? Do we do what is right and just?

—Terence Sherlock

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