16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23:1-3,3-4,5,6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
“…his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mk6:34)
Today’s scripture readings present to us a very compassionate God in the recurrent image of a good shepherd. Throughout the scriptures, there are numerous references to God as a shepherd. During biblical times, families in the Middle East relied upon sheep for food and clothing. Sheep were extremely valuable and shepherds were hired to stay with the flock both day and night to protect them. Just as shepherds guarded their sheep and cared for them both day and night, so does God care for us. He protects us, guides us, and never leaves us despite life’s difficulties.
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah was probably written around the year 600 BC, a time when there was great turmoil in the politics of the Middle East. Jeremiah tells us that the leaders of the people had misled the people and as a result of bad leadership and system failure, the people were like sheep without a shepherd, scattered all over the country for survival. Do we not see in Jeremiah’s prophesy today’s world-wide immigration problem where poor leadership and system failure have resulted in thousands of people risking their lives through dangerous sea and border crossings in search of a better life? How should we as individuals respond to Jeremiah’s warning?
The responsorial psalm, in referring to the goodness of God as a shepherd, is a reaction to the first reading. In this psalm, the author tells us that hope comes through the certainty of God’s ever-loving presence, “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil for you are at my side” (Ps 23:4). Despite life’s hardships, our certain hope is that God is always with us.
In the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is faced with the same dilemma that we often face namely, “unfair” demands on our time. Jesus disciples had just finished a missionary journey and, as they returned to Jesus, they were, no doubt, exhausted. Jesus senses this and invites them to come away with him for a period of quiet, rest, and prayer. Unfortunately, when they reached the other shore, a large crowd had already gathered. When Jesus saw the crowd, His heart was moved “for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). Mark presents the image of a caring, empathetic and compassionate Jesus who cancels a well-deserved rest to attend to the needs of the crowd. How would I respond in a similar situation?
In the second reading from the letter to the Ephesians, Paul’s teaching is both profound and timely. Paul reminds us that Jesus “is our peace … and broke down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). Today, many walls of division and discrimination – racism, gender discrimination, religious intolerance, homophobia, etc. – exist in our churches and society. As Jesus came and proclaimed peace, let us uphold that same peace and justice in our world today.
As we reflect on today’s scripture readings, let us ask Jesus to give us His spirit of compassion so that we can be as sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people around us as He was to the people in His time.
Sr. Mary T. Flood, OP