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16 Sunday of ordinary time B

July 18, 2021

Mark 6: 30-34

By Rev. John Tran

“For they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The fact that the people were like sheep without a shepherd is the crucial phrase in the readings for this Sunday. In a way, this summarizes a good part of the reason Jesus came to be among us. When there is no shepherd, there is less chance of redemption.

What was it like for a religious person of Jesus’ time and the ages before he came? Jeremiah gives us an idea in the first reading. He speaks of shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock. Jeremiah tells of shepherds who do not care for the sheep entrusted to them. It is not that there were not rabbis and teachers of the Law in Israel in the time of Jeremiah and of Jesus. There were. But it seems that they did not teach with authority; they did not inspire or bring true redemption. In a sense, they could not. They often did what they could, but their words were to guide people to God through the observance of Moses’s Law. Maybe it seem like one had to earn salvation by following the rules as closely as possible.

Jesus came to make a difference. He came to set us free from the Law as St. Paul tells us. He taught with authority; he healed people from illness; he healed people from their sins. And finally, he healed them from everlasting death by dying for them and making them part of himself. He did this for us out of his grace, we did not earn it. All Jesus asks of us is that we follow his example.

And even more, he taught his disciples how to bring healing also. The gospel opens with the disciples coming back from a journey in which they spread God’s word and healed people. They were so physically tired, and spiritually drained. They needed to eat and to pray in order to be re-energized. So, Jesus led them off to a deserted place so they could rest.

But these people who were without a shepherd figured out where Jesus and his disciples were going and got there ahead of them. Can you imagine how deflated the disciples must have been? They were looking forward to eat, pray and rest. Instead, they found people who were in great need of them. Jesus was moved with pity for the crowd. His heart bled for them. So, he began to teach them. I am sure that the disciples did not just sit there and watch; no, they assisted Jesus as there was need.

And that, is what Jesus is asking of us today. Do not we see around us everyday people who are lost, who have not shepherd. Do we have the courage and energy to minister to them, to teach them? Some time we do, sometimes it seems too much to bear. I can think of the end of a busy day, and someone asks me to talk with them or hear a confession. I imagine you can remember times when a neighbor is in need of a cup of coffee and some support, just when you have ten things to do. Or, you are asked to make room in your schedule to teach religion class or help with the food bank.

In Albert Camus’ novel, The Fall, an established, impeccable French lawyer has his world totally under control until one night when he hears the cry of a drowning woman and he turns away. Years later, ruined by his failure to act, he winds up reliving the experience in an Amsterdam bar: “Please tell me what happened to you on the Seine River that night, and how you managed never to risk your life,” he says to himself. “O young woman, throw yourself into the water again so that I may have a second chance of saving both of us!“– When we fail to act in behalf of someone in distress, something inside of us knows, and will not let us forget, for we have been less than God intends us to be. Today’s Gospel pictures a compassionate Christ recharging the spiritual batteries of the apostles and showing compassion for the crowd without a shepherd.

When we are on the point of saying, ‘Look, I just can’t do any more,’ stop and take a breath. Maybe I can do a little more, or, at least, I can give a good word and see if I can help in another way, or at another time. We must always make time for having compassion; Jesus did as much, and after all, we are his disciples. Who are we to leave those who need Jesus shepherd-less.

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