16th Sunday of the Year, B – July 17, 2021.
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ps 22:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18 &
Gospel – Mark 6:30-34.
Theme – Shepherds After the Heart of Jesus!
In the first reading, judgment is passed on the Shepherds of Israel for failing to care for God’s sheep. In the second reading, St. Paul assures that we who were far apart have been brought closer “by the blood of Christ” whom he refers to as “the peace between us.” In the gospel, Jesus is presented as the true Shepherd who shows compassion for his flock unlike the self-serving shepherds of Israel. We are urged to pray for an increase of Shepherds after the heart of Jesus who would defy time and circumstances to lead the people in the path of peace, prosperity and progress.
Beloved in Christ, our liturgy today comes hard on the Shepherds of God’s flock because of their reckless style of leadership. Because of their poor leadership, God promised to supplant them by raising a true Shepherd from the Davidic dynasty who would smell like the sheep. In Jesus, we find the fulfilment of that Shepherd who feeds his flock with compassion.
Background & Summary of the Readings
In the first reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6), judgment is passed on the shepherds of Israel for failing to care for God’s sheep. In the Ancient Near East, shepherds came from among the poor in society. However, the word was used to refer to a king. It is misleading to strictly apply the term “shepherd” to Old Testament priests and prophets as an exclusive reference to “pastors of souls” since the Israeli community ran a theocracy that made the king a religious leader. Here, the kings of Judah who were responsible for providing protection and sustenance for their flock by defending them against marauders failed in their duty.
Also, they did not make efforts to search for the lost sheep or rescue those in dander. This is why God accused them for both destroying and scattering his sheep. According to Solvang (2018), some of these shepherds who performed poorly were, Jehoahaz (who ruled for 3 months, 609 BCE – Jer. 22:11-12), Jehoiakim (609-598 – Jer. 22:18), Jehoiachin (who ruled for 3 months, 597 BCE) and Zedekiah (597-587 BCE – Jer. 21:3-7).
These kings failed to judge the cause of the poor and needy (Jer. 22:17) and execute justice to deliver the helpless out of the hand of the oppressor (Jer. 21:12). As a result, God’s divine judgment came upon them. They came under heavy attack by God who accused them of being self-serving. He, therefore, promised a new leadership through the Davidic dynasty (Jer. 23:5 & 6).
In the second reading, (Ephesians 2:13-18), St. Paul assures that we who were far off have been brought closer “by the blood of Christ.” He refers to Christ as “the peace between us – [who] has made the two into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep [us] apart.” He maintains that this is to restore peace and unite us into one single Body and reconcile us with God. By so doing, it says, he killed the hostility and brought us the good news of peace through his Spirit as the way to the father.
In the gospel (Mark 6:30-34) Jesus is presented as the true Shepherd who displays compassion for his flock unlike the shepherds of Israel who were self-serving. Although Jesus and his disciples wanted some time out for rest and food, the people kept following them. Since they trekked long distances to catch up with them, Jesus had to put aside his basic needs of rest and food so as to teach the people at some length. He took pity on them because he saw them like “sheep without a shepherd.”
1. Intercede for Money-Bag Shepherds: Since the understanding of a Shepherd in ancient Israel encompasses political, traditional and religious leadership, we are charged to pray for our contemporary shepherds who are only interested in money such taxes, donations, cash gifts, tithes, launching, bazaars et al without the corresponding compassion for humanity even as we remind them that the love of money is the root of all evil (Cf.1 Timothy 6:10).
2. Berate Lips-stick Shepherds: Both the Church and society should berate if not weed out leaders who unrepentantly scandalise their followers by womanizing with impunity in the sacred and secular spheres of life so as to have leaders after the heart of Jesus who can speak truth to power and continue to raise the stakes in matters of faith and morals.
3. Rehabilitate Liquor-Shepherds: Because wine has always been associated with women who like Delilah are gunning for the soul of Samson amidst lavish parties and wild music, various stakeholders must mentor the young to stay off alcohol while counselling and rehabilitating shepherds who have grown old in liquor-matters to reform or perish.
4. Counsel Flip-flop Shepherds: Amidst a society where there are flip-flop shepherds otherwise known as accidental leaders who are ill-equipped for leadership and demonstrate incompetence, lack of organisation and finesse, we pray God to spare the people their miscalculations/shenanigans even as he grants them wisdom amid wise counsel from the brave.
5. Resist Power-Monger Shepherds: Like Shepherds of Israel who performed poorly namely Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, contemporary power mongers who wield power for the sake of power and without good intension and bulldoze their way to the top while unilateral decisions which puts the people in purgatory while on earth must be resisted with all the weapons of civility at our disposal.
6. Stand Up to Ethno-Religious Shepherds: The message of St. Paul in the second reading that Christ is the “peace between us” demonstrates that since the elite and political class in Nigeria often use the fault-lines of ethnicity and religion to incubate the likes of Nnamdi Kano and Sunday Igboho, all people of goodwill especially Christians must stand up to them in prophetic-witness against all that entices to divisions in our body-politic towards building a prosperous and united nation.
7. Pray for More True Shepherds: Amidst an acute deficit of Good Shepherds in our society, the faithful are charged to ask God to raise leaders like Jesus who would move beyond mere rhetoric to have mercy on and teach and feed the abjectly poor, lonely, unloved, widows, orphans and all vulnerable people by giving meaning to their lives.
Homiletic Points to Remember
1. In the first reading, judgment is passed on the shepherds of Israel for failing to care for God’s sheep.
2. In the second reading, St. Paul assures that we who were far of have been brought closer “by the blood of Christ.”
3. He refers to Christ as “the peace between us – [who] has made the two into one.”
4. In the gospel, Jesus is presented as the true Shepherd to displays compassion for his flock unlike the shepherds of Israel who were self-serving.
5. Although Jesus and his disciples wanted some time out for rest and food, the people kept following them.
In the light of the theme of our liturgy, Jesus’ dramatic washing of his disciple’s feet (Cf. John 13:1-17) remains a metaphor for servant-leadership in the Church and larger society. Therefore, we are charged to embrace humble service (Cf. Matthew 23:12) bearing in mind that bad leadership fosters cynicism and hatred for leaders by the led. Since leadership is a burden, all leaders and those who aspire to leadership positions in the Church and elsewhere must learn from the Master. Relying on his grace, we pray for leaders that God would use them to lead us in the path of peace, prosperity and progress. Amen!
N:B – When Pain is Sudden, Deep & Personal
It’s not easy to lose two family members/relations in two days. While my paternal Auntie and Martriach of the Dyikuk dynasty, Jurmwakuk bowed to death yesterday, today our first cousin, Bernard; an energetic, focused and promising lad was snatched by the cruel hands of death.
The last we visited him at Rayfield, he spoke health into his life and promised me that even though the Doctor said he has few days, he trusts God with his life. Has God disappointed him? That would be the question in the minds of Mom, your brothers and all of us who mourn you.
Well, I think beyond the usual “God loves you most,” our faith must teach us to see God who he is namely, “The Author and Finisher our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) nay, our lives and existence. With two corpses of our loved ones in the mortuary, what shall we say?
I dare to say that the lessons of life should be clear to us. Life and all its attractions is fleeting. Amidst this pain and sorrow which is deep and personal, let us take consolation in Christ who has gone to prepare a better place for us. Adieu Bernard and Auntie Jurmwa. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace!