Gospel Reflection 22 Jul - SVD INM - India Mumbai Province

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Gospel Reflection 22 Jul

Sixteenth Sunday of Year B [Mk 6:30-34]

22 July 2018

Jesus’ Shepherding and Compassionate Ministry

Readings: (1) Jer 23:1-6 (2) Eph 2:13-18

1.  Theme in brief

Our compassion for sheep without a shepherd

2.   Focus Statement:   

Like Jesus, we too are called to a mission of compassion for the ‘sheep’ without a shepherd; but this mission should flow and find direction from our close communion with God after the example of Jesus himself,

3.   Explanation of the text

According to today’s gospel text, an apostle (that is, one who is sent on a mission) is to report to Jesus what he does and teaches during his mission work (6:30). This is what the twelve apostles, who were sent two-by-two on a mission (in last Sunday’s gospel), did. Today’s text makes it clear that Christian discipleship is a two-way process: (1) bringing to Jesus what disciples have experienced in their mission-journey, and (2)taking to people what they have learned from him through their close contact with him in prayer and worship.
As the apostles were tired after a busy schedule of preaching and ministering, Jesus wanted that they should rest for a while (6:31). He wanted that it should be not only a physical rest but also  spiritual – going away from the hustle and bustle of busy life to a "deserted place" and "resting for a while" in order toquieten their restlessness (6:31). In the Bible the word "desert" is used symbolically to refer to a quiet time of encounter with God or a meeting place with God in solitude and prayer. Jesus wanted that his disciples should feel the need of recharging their dropping spirit with spiritual energy in the midst of their busy life.
While Jesus and his disciples were going by boat to enter into such a solitude, the crowd hurriedly followed them on foot and reached that place before Jesus and disciples could (6:33). Many of them must have been following Jesus not for learning anything new from him or for spiritual motive but for getting miraculous favours for themselves. That would have been sufficient reason for even good people among us to get highly annoyed or impatient. Instead of resenting the invasion of his privacy, when Jesus saw their condition, he was deeply and emotionally moved with compassion (6:34) within the core of his being or at the gut-level (as the original Greek word used for compassion indicates). Why? For him those people were not a nuisance but like sheep who had no shepherd to lead and guide them (6:34). So instead of taking the much deserved physical and spiritual rest, he began to teach them many more things (6:34). Here Mark indirectly indicates a shepherd’s role of feeding his sheep with his word (= teaching).
The phrase, "sheep without a shepherd," has its background in the OT. The prophets announced God’s judgement against the misdeeds of the false shepherds (that is, wicked kings) of Israel who were feeding themselves instead of the sheep, and never bothered to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed and save them from getting scattered. They left the sheep without any shepherd to protect them from becoming food for the wild animals (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-8). In another instance, when God reprimanded Moses for his failing as a worthy leader, Moses pleaded with the Lord that he should not leave his people "like sheep without a shepherd" (Numbers 27:17). Then the Lord told him to appoint Joshua as his successor so that his chosen people will not remain as people without a shepherd (Numbers 27:18). Probably, this phrase is an indirect rebuke on the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day, who hadfailed in their shepherding role.
In contrast, Mark projected Jesus as the true Shepherd who fed his followers with his teaching ( with God’s Word) and spiritual food (especially the Eucharist, which will be made more explicit in the following Sundays). Thus, in the sixth chapter, Mark emphasizes three shepherding roles of Jesus: teaching (6:34),feeding (6:35-44) and healing (6:56).

4.  Application to life                     

The first lesson we learn from the message of today’s gospel is that neither weariness nor retirementshould make us stop our missionary service till the end of our life. Of course, there is tiresomeness in our work, but it is not an excuse to give up or to back-off. St. Paul says that we should never grow weary in doing what is right, for we shall reap at harvest time, if we do not give up (Gal 6:9). He repeats it again when he urges the believers in Thessalonica not to be weary in doing what is right (2 Thess 3:13). Now and then we hear this refrain from some of our elders who rendered wonderful services in family, society, community and the Church: "In our time, we did our part in the best way possible. Now it is up to others to continue. Let us see how they will fare." This attitude gives the impression they are either tired of doing good or have retired from doing good. There is no retirement from the twofold mission reported by the apostles to Jesus on their return from mission work: doing deeds of mercy and teaching people God’s ways as Jesus did (cf. explanation above).
Like Jesus who took his disciples to a deserted place for personal sharing and closer relationship, we too must go to a ‘deserted place’ for a closer communion with him in the midst of our busy schedule. The busy-ness of our daily life and pressure of job/duty as well as family tempt us to forego both physical and spiritual rest we need. Our habit of overwork and its tension makes us stressed out. When we do not make any time for prayer, reflection and closer communication with God and with our loved ones, because we think we are too busy, what really happens?  All our attention and focus is on our "to-do" list:  "Today I’ve to do this, I’ve to do that…"  We do not ask why we have to do this or that and for whom. In the midst of our busy work if we forget to pause for a while to get some direction and guidance about these questions from God who is our Shepherd, we become a sheep without a Shepherd. Suppose we remain as sheep without a shepherd what will be our condition? We will be without guidance, without nourishment and without defence – restless, aimless and purposeless.
Therefore, the more busy we are the more we should feel the need for reflection. When there is no close communion with God there will be a ‘link failure.’ When that happens, the burden and responsibilities of life will become heavier and heavier leading to further tension and stress. To re-establish this broken link, we need to go to a deserted place by ourselves to be with the Lord and reflect on the direction to which we are moving in the midst of a over-busy life. We need to share with Jesus not only our joys but also our experiences of facing rejection, indifference and opposition in our work. Reflection on our life’s direction not only recharges our spiritual energy, but also motivates us to constantly follow the path suggested by experts: see, judge, act and review. On every Sunday when we go to church we take along with us what we did during the week and get enlightenment and spiritual energy to continue our mission in the following week. Our prayer and worship are not escapism from the challenges of life and real involvement in its struggles. As William Barclay says we meet with God in the secret place (that is, in personal and community prayer) in order to serve his people in the marketplace (that is, in our life-situations).
The word ‘shepherd’ is used in the OT first of all for God, then for kings, priests and prophets; in the NT for Jesus and the Church leaders. God in the OT and Jesus in the gospel severely rebuke the false and wicked ‘shepherds’ (religious and political leaders). But when it comes to broken-hearted, confused and disorientedpeople (not knowing what to do and where to go), Jesus had a soft heart. Jesus noticed human brokenness from a close angle. He could sense their ‘lost-ness,’ ‘scattered-ness’ and inner longing. He saw how they were wandering aimlessly without any selfless leaders to guide them to right path. His compassion for their condition led him to put their needs above his convenience, weariness, or need for rest. For him it was not a question about what is convenient and comfortable to oneself, but what God wanted him to do for the needypeople at that time. It was a question of faithfulness to God’s mission. What about us?
Today the world is suffering more than before from a lack of selfless and honest leaders with integrity, both in political and religious spheres. How much the world longs for leaders who will put the needs and concerns of the poor and the voiceless above their greed for power and wealth! How much it needs leaders who are moved with compassion for the plight of the underprivileged and the marginalized! How much it needs leaders who put the needs of these people above their or their political party’s benefit or profit. When we watch TV and read newspapers we daily learn about the world’s urgent need for genuine leaders who could serve their people without the taint of scams, kickbacks and graft cases attached to their names.
Like Jesus, we are called to show compassion to the ‘sheep’ who are without a shepherd to lead them. Like him our mission entails not only doing deeds of mercy but also teaching about God’s love and mercy as we heard at the end of today’s gospel (6:34). Today Jesus invites us to be shepherds of the shepherdless. The sheep without a shepherd cannot find the way, cannot get guidance and counsel, cannot find pastures, and cannot defend themselves against ‘thieves and bandits’ (Jn 10:8) or against ‘wild animals’ (Ezech 34:5). There are many poor and powerless people who cannot defend themselves against the exploitation and unjust treatment of the powerful; those who cannot fight for their rights when they are trampled because of lack of financial resources, lack of organization and ignorance of laws that protect their rights. So many ‘thieves and bandits’ loot the funds that are allotted for the welfare of these people. There are so many youth who are disoriented in life or have no aim in life. The ‘wild beasts’ (bad company, bad influence of the mass media) loot their character. So many poor and voiceless people have no genuine and selfless leaders among them. Their so-called leaders can be bought over and duped by the powerful ones. When we look at this situation, are we moved with compassion?

5.      Response to God's Word

How do I respond when my children, family and friends interrupt my rest? What do I feel towards them: angry and impatient, or compassion when the need is urgent?  When I see someone in genuine need, do I come out of my shell to reach out to them, though it is my free time? Does the miserable condition of so many ‘shepherdless’ people move me to do something for them? How can I show concern for them in my own little way? As parents, teachers, community and Church leaders, in what way have we failed in our shepherding role of leading, guiding, empathizing with the weak and showing compassion for the strayed ones? Are we faithful to our role of teaching God’s values to those under our care, feeding them with God’s Word and sacraments and healing their broken hearts? When we are in a leadership role, what is our main concern: personal advancement, or people’s/ society’s/ country’s?

6.  A prayer

Compassionate Lord, today we bring before you what we have experienced in our mission-journey. Filled with your Spirit we would like to take home what we have learned from you. Shepherd us Lord beyond our greed and selfish desires so that we may be moved with compassion at the condition of those sheep wandering aimlessly. Grant that we may become true shepherds for such people after your own heart. O Lord of the harvest, send good and dedicated leaders in the world, the Church and local community to take a special care of the strayed, scattered and strayed ‘sheep.’ Amen.

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