Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 18, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Jer 23:1-6 / Ps 23 / Eph 2:13-18 / Mk 6:30-34
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah reveals God’s displeasure with the leaders of Israel at that time, because they thought only of their own interests and not the welfare of God’s people. We can understand how God feels, because even today, we can still experience that type of leader, even in the Church – leaders who don’t really work for the betterment of society.
We know that we have in the past experienced some unfortunate or bad leaders – leaders who were not sincere in their service to the people. Who suffers if we have these kinds of leaders? The people. That is why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”
Leaders, kings, and rulers are called shepherds in the Old Testament. You know why? Because they are expected to do God’s work – a shepherd to His people. Kings and rulers are supposed to be God’s representative in the midst of His people.
How beautiful it would be if all our leaders would know their real role in society. It would be very fitting to call them “honorable,” simply because, being honorable, you bring God and His love and His message to the people. We know that there are leaders, nowadays, who are not doing what the Lord wants them to do – who are not doing what pleases the Lord.
That is why in our first reading, the Lord says, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture. You have scattered my sheep and have driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.”
We know God is not pleased with evil, wrong leadership. What are these things that displease the Lord? Of course, it includes self-interest, corruption, defending illegal drugs or illegal businesses, or defending immoral laws, and ignoring the poor. These are the things that the Lord warns the leaders about, and He tells us in our first reading today, that He will take care to punish our evil deeds. In the end, at the Last Judgment, we leaders are responsible for what we are doing to the people of God.
God promised that He would send shepherds who would gather back His people, so that they would no longer live in anxiety and fear. The gospel shows the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus the Good Shepherd and His disciples gave their lives to nurture God’s people by teaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick. We understand from today’s gospel that this new group of shepherds that Jesus created were so faithful in their work that they even forgot to rest and to eat. Because of this, Jesus invited them to find a lonely place to rest for a while.
This gospel should inspire leaders in government, the Church, or the family who are faithful in their service. Jesus will see your efforts and prepare a place for you where you can rest with Him. That’s a promise that Jesus has given to faithful leaders. We may not have rest in this world, but surely, when we see Him in the Last Judgment, He will give us eternal and peaceful rest.
When Jesus saw the people following him, He felt great pity, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The sheep is a kind of animal that is easily misled and has no protection against evil. Without a shepherd, a sheep would have a hard time surviving. Like a sheep, man has great need for the guidance and protection of a shepherd.
This reminds us of two great truths. First, we must not separate ourselves from Jesus as our Good Shepherd. The Psalm today encourages us to have faith in Him. It says, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” The closer we are to the shepherd, the safer we are from the wolves.
Second, let us also remember that, as the baptized, we are commissioned by Jesus to be one another’s shepherds. It is a great mistake to think that the shepherds of the church are only the clergy and the religious. In fact, every Christian is a shepherd. The priest is a shepherd to his parishioners. The teacher to his students. The mayor to his citizens. The manager to his workers. The parent to his children. A child to his siblings. As shepherds, we are expected by God to always look out for the good of our fellow man.
Lastly, this gospel is a story of challenge and hard work. Jesus sends the twelve on their first mission. He commissioned them to preach, to do all the works He does. It is important to know that He sends them to do all this, supported by their faith in God.
Today’s gospel carries the story to its logical conclusion, with Jesus welcoming back His tired apostles. Knowing that the twelve are physically exhausted and in need of food and rest, He gives them refreshment. He shows compassion by offering them rest. He’s really a good shepherd. The rest that He offers, is, above all, a time during which the apostles could recharge their spirit in prayer and retreat. Just like batteries, they are already weak and in need of recharging.
Our Lord’s invitation to rest is not just a pious gesture given only to a chosen few, but an indispensable call to all of us – to find some much-needed silence and solitude. In other words, a “desert place.”
We need time to reflect and see our work as coming from, going to, and centered in our relationship with God, through Jesus. In our relationship with God through Jesus, we must guard ourselves from being overactive, of constant activity, and of overwork. There must be time with God – a time to listen to God’s word, a time with family and friends.
That is why Jesus invites His disciples to a deserted place – because they need rest. Jesus wants them to take care of their body and souls. They need to eat, drink, and rest. More importantly, they need to be together as a community, to share and to reflect on their own ministry. They need to pray and enjoy solitude. Jesus does not want to destroy the balance between the active ministry and its contemplative aspects. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, and He asks us to be good shepherds also – to take care of His flock and to spread His teachings to everyone.