July 19, 2015 — Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The theme of “shepherds” and “shepherding” flows through all of our readings on this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The reference to shepherds is a common one in the Bible; Jesus Himself often makes allusion to that idea in relationship to how He views and cares for His followers.
If one travels in the Middle East even today, sheepfolds and shepherds and sheep can be found. The shepherd herds the sheep into the sheepfold at night, but there is no gate to the sheepfold, just an opening. That is where the shepherd sleeps as it is the shepherd who is the gate and the protector. That image is also one often referred to by Christ. He is not only the shepherd; He is the gatekeeper.
Our First Reading from Jeremiah represents God speaking in this way: “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord.” Our lives are filled with shepherds who care for us and love us. Yet, we, too, must recognize those times when we need to be shepherds for others. It is our rapport with the Lord, our ability to see Him within us and to allow Him to guide and shepherd us, which provides us with the strength and wisdom to shepherd others.
St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading from his letter to the Ephesians that we are saved through “the blood of Christ.” Jesus also said more than once that the good shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep.” Sometimes when we consider the Cross and the Crucifixion, we become focused on the horror of it, the wounds and the blood. What we need to concentrate on is Christ’s love for us. This is the connection to the Shepherd and His love for the flock. In the temples at the time of Jesus there was a literal wall that separated Jews from Gentiles. Paul also prompts us that Jesus “broke down the wall of enmity” for “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Paul is always repeating to us that salvation is available to all of us if we embrace Christ and His deliverance.
As is normally the case, it is the Gospel that summarizes best what the Lord did for us, and what He continues to do for us. The disciples have just returned from mission work in several communities and villages. They are tired and probably have no desire to spend any more time with people. Jesus recognized that His disciples needed to rest and recover. However, when He saw the crowds He was “moved with pity for them” and His compassion outweighed everything else because they were truly “sheep without a shepherd.” If we are dedicated to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, if we are committed to live our lives as good stewards, there are going to be times when we, too, are weary, and may feel like we can do no more. Like the Lord nonetheless, we must learn to gather our strength through Him, to place our trust in Him, and to take the next steps in our faith journeys by doing more, by responding to the needs we see around us.
We need to be fed by the Word, by Christ, by our faith. Then we need to take that faith and feed others.