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God's Word on Sunday: The Good Shepherd will not let us down

  • July 11, 2021

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) July 18 (Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34)

Shepherds appear countless times in the Bible but often in an ambiguous or negative way.

In the Old Testament, they represent religious and political leadership. We are sometimes presented with examples of good shepherds — those living up to their calling and caring for their people. But more often than not, shepherds are portrayed in terms of corruption, selfishness and disregard for the well-being of their charges.

Jeremiah’s prophecy excoriates the shepherds of Israel for their corruption and lack of leadership, but most of all, for scattering the flock and driving people away. This has particular poignancy and relevance in our own time, as many have been driven away by a failure of leadership, transparency and care for the flock. At times reputation and appearances have counted for more than justice. A less than welcoming attitude towards those whose lives do not fit into textbook categories has also taken its toll.

Spiritual care and well-being of souls is always of prime importance, ranking above protecting the institution. In this prophecy, God promised to raise up true leaders who will govern with justice, wisdom and compassion.

These shepherds will be chosen by God, for humans do not seem up to the task. In particular, God promised a king of justice and righteousness from the House of King David, and this was fulfilled in Jesus.

In chapter 10 of the Gospel of John, Jesus rebuked those shepherds who were in it just for themselves and who deserted their flocks at the first sign of trouble.

Jesus portrayed Himself as the “good shepherd,” the faithful and dependable guide of souls who will never abandon His flock. He even lays down His life for them.

We are passing through difficult times. Many are discouraged and disillusioned, feeling let down by those in whom they trusted. This calls for great faith and perseverance, but most of all for a personal friendship with the Lord, the shepherd who will never let us down.

The work of the Good Shepherd is depicted in dramatic and almost cosmic terms in Ephesians. Jesus works tirelessly to bring people together regardless of how far they had been from God. He removes the sort of barriers and obstacles that through human efforts divide and exclude.

The goal of Jesus is the abolition of hostility and the establishment of true peace and unity among the peoples of the Earth. His mission is just as pressing today, perhaps even more so. As fast as the Lord does His work, many are equally quick to dismantle and nullify it. Human fear and selfishness are tenacious and always present.

Even Jesus and His apostles needed an occasional day off, so Jesus invited them to get away for some rest and downtime. They were sorely disappointed, for the crowds had noticed their departure.

They did more than follow them — they raced ahead and were there waiting for them when they arrived. The dismay of Jesus and the apostles did not last long. Jesus saw and sensed the desperation, yearning and hope in the hearts of those waiting for Him. He had compassion on them, and promptly set aside His own needs, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. In other words, no one was caring for their souls and offering spiritual guidance and wisdom for the journey.

He began to teach them “many things” — if only Mark had recorded some of them. They were in the same situation that many find themselves in today — there was no one to really feed their souls.

Religious rhetoric is of little help. The shrill rancor that divides us over hot-button issues has done much to stifle the Spirit and drive people away.

There are many religious and non-religious sources of guidance in our culture. Some are helpful, some are less helpful and some are actually harmful.

The mission of Jesus was to illuminate hearts and minds, and as disciples it is ours too. It again comes back to a personal friendship with Jesus. If we draw closer to the Lord, He will do likewise, and will probably even teach us “many things.”

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