“FIRST IMPRESSIONS”
16th SUNDAY - July 21, 2024

Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 23;
Ephesians 2: 13-18; Mark 6: 30-34

by Jude Siciliano, OP

 

Dear Preachers:

 


PRE-NOTE:

 

As you know, each week I list the names of 3 death row inmates and suggest our readers drop them a note. I realize we may not wish to send our addresses to people we don’t know in prison. What about asking your local parish to receive any responses you might get, using the parish office as a return address? Or, just sign your first name with no return address. At least the inmate will know they are not forgotten and are prayed for by someone on the outside.

Thank you.



The image of the shepherd permeates our Scriptures today. The Psalm response to our first reading sums it up: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” We are reminded that God is not asleep or a distant God. Note the verbs the psalmist uses to describe God’s activities on behalf of the sheep. God nourishes, nurtures and guides us to a restful place. There God encourages, empowers, takes away fear and anoints us with oil to commission and strengthen us to go forth on God’s behalf. Just as Jesus did, prior to day’s gospel passage, when he sent his disciples to preach and heal (6:7-13.)

The rulers of ancient Israel, their kings, were also to be the shepherds of the people. They were expected to reflect God, Israel’s Shepherd. Jeremiah takes Israel’s recent kings to task for neglecting their responsibilities to their flock, the people of Judah. The corruption of the kings had caused the destruction of Jerusalem and the people’s enslavement in Babylon was seen as punishment.

Jeremiah reminds the people that God has not forgotten them and will take them back. When people make a mess of their lives, they interpret the resulting dire consequences of their bad choices as punishment from God. They feel disconnected from their past and experience a sense of homelessness – displacement – like the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. They even feel shame when they think of God and so, may hesitate asking for forgiveness.

Those who experience one form of exile or another, take Jeremiah to heart – whatever we may think of ourselves and the shame we feel for what we have done, or failed to do. If we were God, we reason, we would give up on us and our half-hearted attempts to change. But we are not God and Jeremiah reminds us that our shepherding God has come out looking for us to guide us home. “I myself will gather the remnant of the flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow.

In addition, once God has restored us to good standing, God will stay with us and help us keep from slipping back into old habits and destructive modes of behavior, “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them.” God will not leave us wandering and untended in any deserted place we may find ourselves. Today’s gospel shows that Jeremiah’s promise of God’s care for us has taken flesh in Jesus, our shepherd.

Why would people leave their towns and search out Jesus in a deserted place? Why do people, even now, after a hectic day of work, commuting and food preparation, leave their homes to go to their parish for a class on the Scriptures, the Pope’s latest encyclical, an RCIA session, etc? We may not be going to a literal “deserted place,” but we have a lot in common with the vast crowd of today’s gospel: we too are hungry and we want to learn more about Jesus. As he did with the crowds so he draws us to himself to teach us. What we learn isn’t just more information about him. The reason we go out of our way is to learn Jesus, whom we meet in the words and actions of his modern apostles, ordinary Christians like us, commissioned to speak and act in his name.

A word on titles. In other places in Mark’s gospel those who follow Jesus are called “disciples.” But today their title is “apostle.” This is the only time this title is attributed to them in Mark. So, what’s special in today’s account? Well, they have returned from the mission Jesus gave them. Previously Jesus gave them authority and sent them out two by two (6:7-13) to preach and heal. While we follow Jesus and listen to his teachings we are disciples. But then he assigns us to go forth and preach and heal – then we also bear the title “apostle.”

Jesus takes the returning apostles to a “deserted place.” The biblical reader knows the significance of a “deserted place.” We recall that, after God delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian slavery, God led them out to the desert and tended them with food and drink. And more! In the desert God revealed God’s self to the people and made a lasting covenant with them. Jesus is doing what God did for the people in the desert. He teaches them “many things.” These “many things” does not imply that Jesus spoke a long boring sermon. Instead, he taught as he always taught, the “many things” about God’s love and care for us. Finally, a shepherd who will teach and guide the people in God’s ways!

We are also called to teach as: parents, professional teachers, friends, catechists and through good example. We have many opportunities to share our knowledge of God with those who find themselves in their own “deserted places” of depression, indecision, sadness, faithlessness, poverty, unemployment, loss of a loved one, etc. Many, who find themselves in deserted places, look to us for the concern and care Jesus had for the crowd who were “like sheep without a shepherd.” On our own we cannot address their needs. But like those first apostles, we are not on our own, we have been commissioned with the authority and power given to us through Jesus’s Spirit. We received that Spirit at our baptism and are reminded today that we are sent on mission to be the Lord’s apostles.

 

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/072124.cfm