16th Sunday of Ordinary ~ 18 July 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Responsorial: Psalm 23; II: Ephesians 2: 13-18; Gospel: Mark 6: 30-34
The Light of Scripture shines brightly this weekend on a topic of great relevance, that of Shepherds for God.
The Old Testament reading in Jeremiah confronts the pain and damage inflicted by false shepherds who scatter and divide the flock belonging to God. As the prophet addresses this cruel reality he also affirms that God will provide His Shepherd / King who will bring the faithful to their place of peace and justice.
St. Paul in the epistle brings our focus on the heart of Christ our Shepherd who longs for the church, the family, the flock of God, to be one. It is clear that enmity and strife, the spirit of “them and us” have no place in the flock of God. Jesus, through His cross, would gather together into His peace and holiness all, making us one in Christ.
And it is in our Gospel reading from Mark we see Jesus, shepherding His disciples to rest and renewal but also seeing the immense need and hunger of humanity for the grace and love of shepherds for God. These three readings challenge and encourage us to recognize that very real perils exist in our world and that there would be those false shepherds who would lead, not for and into Christ and His Kingdom but for their own agendas, designs, and gain.
For many people, especially in the “developed” world, there is a difficulty about knowing and understanding the role of a shepherd. Perhaps it would be better for some if the popular term “influencer” was used instead. The role of an influencer is evidently quite the rage among some people. The use of social media, internet outlets, and social prestige play an immense role in the degree and extent of the power exercised by these new-style shepherds. We may be tempted to dismiss the concept of influencers. But even for those of us who are older, or for those who avoid cyber-settings, the role and power of these 21st century shepherds is very real and pervasive. Whatever term we prefer we need to realize the impact shepherds, or influencers, have in life.
As we read and meditate upon our readings today we may tend to think of the recognized shepherds of the church, our pope, bishops, priests, and even deacons. Many use technology and internet tools and resources to seek to shepherd and influence the flock of God. This is often for great good, but can also be for evil. The gifts and grace of social media provided tremendous help for the faithful during the pandemic.
As we consider these realities we need to allow our hearts to be always aware and practicing the power and promise of the responsorial for today, Psalm 23. In many ways we need to allow this ever-familiar psalm to be a frequent confession as we seek to follow Christ and true shepherds for God. For this psalm gives us strong grace and wisdom for all the days of our life.
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. God’s true shepherds will lead us, together, to Christ our Shepherd. God, in the grace and wisdom of the Church, leads us to the fullfillment GOD KNOWs we need, not what We think we should have.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me. He refreshes (restores) my soul. As sheep we may decide, or think, we know the best pasture and not want to change. We may feel “this is what really feeds me” so we resist our shepherd as He would seek to bring us to new places. Thankfully the ever faithful angels (perhaps God’s sheepdogs?) will push and show us..it is time to move on. It is time to grow. God will provide rest. Our shepherd will restore our soul…with Him. In the holy times and places of His choosing. But not necessarily in those places and times of the past where we sometimes think we should be.
He guides me in right paths for His name’s sake. God will guide us. The Church today is being led by the Shepherd of our souls, through the shepherds of His choosing. God is faithful to His promise. While some false shepherds and influencers may arise, in all matter of status and garb, we must pay attention. Is the flock of God being brought together, even if diffcult matters are being dealt with? Or is the focus upon set specific agendas, spiritualities or liturgy?
Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and staff that give me courage. You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. God’s shepherds bring us ever closer to the side of Christ. And together in His Presence we need to fear no evil. False influencers and shepherds nurture division, the sense of “them vs. us”. The practice of assumed spiritual superiority is pervasive. As is the attitude that others are not worthy or properly reverent and thus must be excluded from the table set before us. If we look to the Gospels, to the entirety of Scripture, we learn it is to the very table of God that healing, restoration and grace, so urgently needed, is found as the anointing of the Holy Spirit sets us free to be all we can be for God. And it is there, we His sheep, discover the abundance of mercy and goodness in God. We see our cup overflowing, not to be withheld, but to be shared.
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. This great psalm is written in the singular. It applies to each individual sheep. But it is helpful to remember that sheep are the only common livestock where the individual and the flock are all called by the same name. SHEEP. For individually God’s shepherds seek to minister and guide that TOGETHER we may grow in the fullness of His Body, His flock. God’s shepherds, following the Great Shepherd themselves will leave a legacy of growing in God, TOGETHER. There may be difficult times and places. They may indeed lead us out of places where the entire flock is unable to flourish. They, with God, will lead through sorrows and struggles but ever closer to Jesus.