July 22, 2018 — Sixteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time
“The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.” We are familiar with that scriptural quote from Psalm 23. Many of us have learned that and heard it since we were small. Many learned people maintain that it is the most quoted Psalm in the Bible. It is the recommended Responsorial Psalm on this 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time because it is so supportive of the other readings. It presents two important ideas: that we must place our trust in the Lord and that we inherit life from our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
The First Reading is from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah. Of all the books in the Bible Jeremiah is the longest Book in the Bible with more than 33,000 words. It is followed by Genesis; the longest book in the New Testament is Luke with more than 19,000 words.
Jeremiah was familiar with the writings of Isaiah although Isaiah lived about 200 years before he lived. Only once did Isaiah refer to the coming Messiah as a shepherd (Isaiah 40:11): “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast.” We can certainly recognize the many images we have of Christ the Good Shepherd in that verse.
However, Jeremiah uses that point of reference more often, especially in today’s First Reading. Jeremiah writes, speaking in behalf of the Messiah, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow.” That sounds very much like today’s Church that includes “all the lands.”
At the close of today’s reading Jeremiah says, “This is the name they give him: ‘The LORD our justice’.” Jeremiah, like most Books in the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. What we translate as “The LORD our justice” was Yahweh Tsidkenu in the original. Another translation of the Hebrew phrase is “He is Yahweh,” a clear indication that the Messiah is God, a part of the Holy Trinity. Finding Him described as a shepherd in the same reading is quite powerful.
At the time St. Paul was writing his letter to the Ephesians (our Second Reading), Paul was under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He was allegedly accused by the Jews of taking a Gentile into a temple. Therefore, part of Paul’s statement, “For he (Christ) is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims,” is in defense and explanation. Not only can we relate this to Jeremiah’s statement about “all the lands,” but we also need to note that for Paul any wall of separation that once existed is gone because of the Messiah’s sacrifice. Paul is saying in effect to us if the Lordship of Jesus is not greater then any difference you may feel you have with others — be it political, racial, economic, language, or geography — then you (we) do not understand what it means to be under the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus is our Savior and our Shepherd.
The Gospel Reading from Mark shows some of the dissatisfaction the Apostles evidently had with the huge crowds who followed Jesus (and thus them), but again it is this idea of shepherding that lies at the heart of it. We are told in today’s Gospel, “When he (Jesus) disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” In other words, He began to feed them.
Jesus was meeting the most essential need any of us have, to be fed with the Word of God. That is what we do during this part of our Mass; we hear Holy Scripture. These are the Words of the Lord. He is, or should be, our shepherd. He is speaking to us in this way, and He speaks to us in many ways. And we are His sheep.