Righteousness will lead the way

  • July 13, 2009
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) July 19 (Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

Despite the peaceful and idyllic image of the shepherd’s life it is anything but easy. Keeping wandering members of the flock together and searching after the wayward is itself a full-time job. But on top of all that, there is the constant and unwavering vigilance that must be exercised to protect the flock from predators that strike without warning. Little time is left for the shepherd who has little time to think of his own comfort and safety — at least in the case of a reliable and trustworthy shepherd. The shepherd must account for the safety and well-being of the entire flock to the owner.

Jeremiah uses the symbol of the shepherd to depict the leaders of the people — those responsible for the physical and spiritual well-being of the nation. And in this case they have been asleep at the switch. Their selfishness, greed, incompetence and lust for power have been the ruin of the nation and the people. The people whom they were anointed to guide and protect have been scattered and devastated. It might resonate with our own experience of betrayal and disappointment at the hands of political, social and religious leaders.

Unfortunately, personal gain or the protection of the institution often elbows aside the happiness and well-being of the rank and file. According to Jeremiah, God has a simple solution: He is going to do the job Himself by giving the people real leaders. These leaders — and one in particular — will govern with justice and righteousness and the nation will prosper. But we seldom see these leaders — and perhaps the name by which the model leader is called is telling us something important: “The Lord is our righteousness.” The spirit of justice and righteousness will be our leader and this is found within us. We should be setting our own hearts and minds on God’s ways rather than looking for someone else to tell us what to do or how to live.

The blood of Christ puts an end to enmity and violence — at least that is the intention. Jesus intended to sweep aside all of the artificial barriers that human beings create to separate themselves from one another. Part of this is the sense of superiority or specialness that easily inflates the collective ego of a group: we are favoured by God, after all, we are morally and spiritually superior to everyone else. The mission and death of Jesus was supposed to bring about peace and reconciliation but it seems to elude us. Some might say that there is more enmity than ever: racial, national and religious antagonism fuels much of the world’s hatred and violence. We need to remember that Jesus died not just for an otherworldly goal, but to make things very different here on Earth — to save us from ourselves.

Jesus and the apostles were exhausted and hungry. They had been carrying the message of the approach of God’s reign far and wide without letup. Now the moment seems right for getting away from it all — going to a quiet place for some rest and relaxation. In modern parlance they were candidates for “burnout.” But it was not to be: crowds of people saw where they were headed and arrived there ahead of them. It is easy to imagine the sinking feeling that they must have experienced upon exiting the boat when they saw the crowd waiting for them. It would have been easy to get back in the boat and try another place, or to order them away.

But compassion is both the response and the ruling principle, for Jesus sees their need and desperation. They are yearning for words of hope and encouragement and reassurance of God’s love and care. And they are seeking words of wisdom — how to live holy and upright lives in a very dark and confusing world. Not many had the will, spiritual awareness and inner resources to answer those needs. The people were without true leaders and without direction. Wisdom, compassion, patience and presence — these are the needs of our time, not conformity, control and moralizing. “Jesus began to teach them many things” — if only we could do that for one another and for a desperate world.