July 19 2015 16th Sunday of the Year (B)
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: If we only had leaders in our Church! Shepherds in a new evangelization
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6). The remnant of my flock I will gather and I will raise up shepherds to look after them.
This divine message, through the prophet Jeremiah, was addressed to the remnants of the Jewish people left in exile in Babylonia after the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish state. The shepherds of Israel are blamed for the disaster. The image of the shepherd in the Bible was one of tender devotion to the sheep of their flocks. The kings and princes of Israel were the shepherds alluded to in this passage. They would be punished by God for the disaster that had struck God’s people. God shows that his affection for his people is as that of a true shepherd towards his scattered sheep. Given their neglect, the God of Israel himself would act as shepherd to his people, bringing back the scattered to true and full life. He would raise up shepherds in this future for his people, to act as true shepherds. The text does not specify who these will be. The passage concludes with a divine promise of a future Davidic king (“a virtuous Branch of David”) to come, not necessarily immediately but at some future date (“the days are coming”). Such promises would later foster Jewish hopes in a true son of David, to sit on David’s throne. The last Davidic kings died in exile in Babylonia after the destruction of the state of Judah and the Temple in 586 BC. It was apparently hoped that that Zerubbabel, a descendant of David and governor of Judah at the restoration (about 520 BC), would be this promised Branch of David. Probably fear of such an event had the Persian authorities remove him from his post. Belief in the advent of the true Branch of David continued in Israel, and for Christian believers was seen as fulfilled in Jesus son of David,
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 22). The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Second Reading (Ephesians 2:13-18). Christ Jesus is the peace between us, and has made the two into one.
At the beginning of this letter to the Ephesians (read last Sunday) the great apostle of the Gentiles, Paul, or a disciple in his name, reminds his readers of the great dignity bestowed on them by the revelation of what God intends to do in his Son. God, the writer says, has let us believers know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning to act upon when the times had run their course to the end. This divine plan was to bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth. This was no simple pious thinking, and today’s reading spells out the implications of some of this principle: to bring everything on earth together under Christ. The writer speaks as a Jew, referring to himself and his people as “we, us”, those who were near God, and to his mainly Gentile (ex-pagan) readers as “you”, those far away from God’s people. The Jews strengthened their identity, and guarded against assimilation by surrounding culture, by ritual rules and regulations of the Law of Moses and later laws. Their identity from non-Jews was also visibly manifest in the Temple where a wall separated the court of the Gentiles (into which non-Jews could come) and the remainder of the Temple. Any non-Jew passing beyond this wall could be put to death with impunity. Christ’s death on the cross spelled the end of such division. God’s people would now be defined by faith in Christ. Christ would thus create of the two peoples Jew and gentile a new, united humanity, a “New Man”, in the Church, where the good news of peace and Christian life is made possible for the non-Jews, “those far away”, and for Jews, “those near at hand”. All have equal access to the Father in the one Spirit.
Gospel (Mark 6:30-34). They were like sheep without a shepherd.
In a passage preceding today’s reading (read last Sunday) Jesus gave his apostles authority and command to preach in his name. Their mission was successful and in today’s reading Jesus invites them to take a rest from their labours. They go to a quiet place for this, but are followed by crowds looking for help and direction in life. Jesus took pity on them, regarding them as sheep without a shepherd. Because of this, be set about teaching them at some length. Jesus’ mission is not just about healing the sick. It is about getting people to understand their worth, about direction in life, and about the concern their Father in heaven has for them. We should note Jesus’ emphasis on teaching and preaching.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: If we only had leaders in our Church! Shepherds in a new evangelization
Today’s Gospel and first reading give us an occasion to reflect on one of the many problems concerning dialogue with our age and the call for a new age of evangelization. Central to both readings is the image of the shepherd and his flock of sheep, whether scattered or being led to new pastures. In the literal sense, there can be a real connection between the shepherd and the sheep. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice; he knows them and they recognize him. When it comes to the metaphorical sense of the image, with involvement of humans, matters can be different. The ideal of the shepherd’s concern for God’s flock will always hold. However, while the “sheep” may be lost and scattered, it is no way clear that they are interested in being shepherded, especially if the message of the shepherd is not to their liking. It occurred already in Jesus’ day. He had followers during his lifetime, but his message, as presented by the early Church, had no great success among those whom he regarded as lost during his ministry in Galilee.
It is somewhat the same in our own day, possibly more acutely so. While many may feel lost, and seek direction in life, they are not attracted to the message of Christ or his Church. The sheer confusion in many matters, and some scandals within the Church, leave even ministers of religion, as well as practising believers, confused. Some blame good part of the problem on Church leaders. Doubtless, there have been, and are, serious failings in some Church leaders and remedies need to be taken for Church administration in keeping with the challenges of our age. What Church leadership is, or should be, is not always easy to define. In political life it can involve the intervention of a party leader in regard to some party members who are transgressing party policy. In Church affairs, given the present-day confusion on a number of issues, it may be a mistake to think that Church leaders can solve some of the problems causing annoyance.
What is called for today, and something the Church itself is well aware of, is a recognition of the situation regarding religious belief and practice, an active anti-religion atmosphere, and the corresponding need for a new evangelization. Evangelization, preaching the Gospel, was central to Christ’s message: “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1:38); central also to Paul (“Woe to me if I do not peach the gospel”, 1 Cor 9:16), and to the Church.
This new evangelization will need to operate at various levels, doctrinally and pastorally, aware of the objections to belief in God and the Christian faith, and the indifference of many to practice of their faith. It will have to seek ways of establishing contact with those to whom we believe Christ’s saving message is to be addressed. Much reflection is required of all who believe that the Gospel message is to be proclaimed in our own day as in the days of Jesus, Paul and the early Church.