|Reading 1||Response||Reading 2||Gospel|
|Jer 23:1-6||Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6||Eph 2:13-18||Mk 6:30-34|
The lost sheep and their compassionate shepherd
During Ordinary time the Lectionary readings present stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite RCIA participants and the believing community to recognize God’s offer of merciful love in our own lives.
In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah criticizes the Jewish leaders (“shepherds”) for their poor care of the Jewish people. The leaders’ behavior and bad decisions will result in war with Babylon and Jewish captivity. Jeremiah foretells that God will return the people and appoint just shepherds, descended from David, to care for them. Christian hearers understand that Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy as a just ruler in David’s line. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match Jesus’ concern for the people in today’s gospel.
The second reading is a continuation of the letter to the Ephesus ekklesia. The letter’s major theme is the unity of all Christians in one believing community. Today’s reading contains the letter’s theological core. The author contrasts those who were far from God (gentile Christians) with the ones closer to God (Jewish Christians). The far ones lacked the near ones’ messianic expectation, lacked the various covenants God made with Israel, and lacked hope of salvation and knowledge of the true God. By his saving and transformative death, Christ transcended all religious barriers between Jews and gentiles. Christ fulfilled and abolished the law–not the moral demands of the law, but the law as the only path to salvation. Christians now keep the law because they have been saved by grace, not to earn salvation.
Mark’s gospel concludes the Twelve’s sending from last week (Mk 6:7-13) with their return; it also sets up next week’s reading (the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness). Jesus invites the Twelve to rest in the wilderness, but further ministry interrupts his plans:
- Jesus calls disciples to active ministry and to quiet prayer. The wilderness or “deserted place” represents time for the disciples to be alone with Jesus and reflect on their recent missionary work. To be effective, a disciple must balance service to others (action) with a reflective prayer life (words, silence). When a disciple loses this balance, service can become self-serving, or prayer can become a list of complaints to God.
- Jesus’ compassion for God’s people. Despite his need for “wilderness time” with his disciples, Jesus is moved to pity when he sees the people as lost sheep (see the first reading). The Greek verb σπλαγχνίζομαι (splang-KNIHd-zoh-mah-ee) means “to have a physical and emotional reaction in a person’s guts.” This Greek verb captures the Hebrew scripture’s idea of “merciful love,” a quality of God alone: With everlasting love I will have compassion on you (Is 54:7-8).
- Jesus’ teaching is both a compassionate act and prophecy-in-action. Out of compassion for the people’s “lostness,” Jesus begins to teach them–something their failing leaders should be doing. (Next week Jesus will also miraculously feed them in the wilderness.) The Hebrew scripture connects “teaching” and “eating” with acquiring wisdom (Sir 15:3; Sir 24:19-21 Pv 9:5). Jesus’ literal teaching (word) and feeding (action) become prophecy-in-action, both fulfilling the prophets’ promise and foreshadowing the liturgical signs of Word and Eucharist.
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our lostness and how God reaches out to us again and again. Jeremiah promises that God will give the people just and compassionate shepherds. Mark shows Jesus overcome with compassion for the shepherdless sheep, and how he teaches and feeds them with his words. With all the competing demands for our time and attention, we are easily lost. To find ourselves, we need to take a wilderness break. In the silence God’s merciful love can teach and feed us. In the liturgy of the Word God teaches and speaks to us; in the liturgy of the Eucharist God feeds us. Can we make time to encounter God’s compassion?