16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalms 23:1-6
Ephesians 2:13-18
Mark 6:30-34

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: As a Shepherd Tends His Flock
During the last several Sundays, the focus of the readings has been on the authority and mission of God's representatives who are the "voice" of God to the people.  Using the familiar image of a shepherd and his flock, the Bible readings for this Sunday continue to reflect on the authority and the mission of the Church with emphasis on the need for righteous "shepherds" called by God to lead the "flock" of His Church with the tender and loving care.

In the First Reading, the 6th century BC prophet Jeremiah calls down a covenant lawsuit on the failed religious leadership of the Israelites/Jews of the Sinai Covenant.  In response to their failures and the harm they have done to the people, Yahweh promises that He will come Himself to call them to account and to shepherd the "flock" of His people, rescuing them from where they have been scattered and lost.

In the Psalm we read David, the shepherd-king's beautiful todah Psalm.  In Hebrew the word todah means "thanksgiving".  A todah psalm is one that typically begins with the psalmist crying out to the Lord God in the midst of his personal suffering, but it then ends in a hymn of praise to God who is always faithful and who has not abandoned His servant.

St. Paul, in the Second Reading, writes about the Gospel of salvation that God worked in Christ Jesus for all peoples, uniting both Jews and Gentiles into a unity of one "flock"—one religious community worshipping, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the same God and Father.  And in the Gospel Reading, the men Jesus has chosen to shepherd His New Covenant Kingdom return from preaching the coming Messianic Kingdom.  Jesus sees the crowds of people gathered to hear Him preach and has compassion for the people who are like "sheep without a shepherd.  He is the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jeremiah in the First Reading.  He is both God Himself (Jer 23:3) and the Messianic Good Shepherd from the house of David (Jer 23:5) who has come to rescue His people and to lead them to salvation through worship in "the house of the Lord" (Ps 23:6).

The First Reading Jeremiah 23:1-6 ~ The False and True Shepherds
1 Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.  Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.  You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.  3 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; there they shall increase and multiply.  4 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.  5 Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.  6 In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.  This is the name they give him: "The LORD our justice,"

In the pattern of a covenant lawsuit (a riv in Hebrew), the Lord God pronounces judgment on the failed "shepherds" who are the religious hierarchy of the Church of Israel, bound to Yahweh in the terms of the Sinai Covenant.  Because of their failure in obedience and the exercise of right worship, and the resulting apostasy of the people, God punished them by allowing them to be scattered into exile in Gentile lands (verses 1-2).  But God promises restoration of His covenant people.  He will come as the Good Shepherd to gather a faithful remnant of His flock (verse 3), and He gives the prophecy that a messianic King will arise from the line of the great King David to rule over Judah and Israel with justice (verses 5-6). 

Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and son of David (Mt 1:1) is the fulfillment of this prophecy.  He is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11) who will gather to Himself a faithful remnant of the old Israel in His Apostles and disciples.  They are the "shepherds" the Messiah will appoint to govern His Kingdom of the Church (Jer 23:4; Mt 18:18; Jn 20:22-23).  Jesus came to gather the scattered and abandoned flock of Israel that He said was like "sheep without a shepherd" (Mt 9:36), and to call to account the failed shepherds of His people (7 "woes" of Mt 23:13-36).  But the salvation that Jesus, the Davidic Messiah, brings will not be the temporal salvation that was promised under obedience to the old Sinai Covenant.  It will be a New and eternal Covenant that promises eternal salvation and a share in divine life; gifts of grace that were not possible under the old order.

Responsorial Psalms 23:1-6 ~ The Lord is the Great Shepherd
The response is: "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want."
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  2 In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.
Response:
3 He guides me in right paths for his name's sake.  4 Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.
Response:
5 You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Response:
6 Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.
Response:

The 23rd Psalm is probably the best loved of all the 150 psalms.  It is attributed to David, God's anointed shepherd-king of Israel and the ancestor of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Christ (Mt 1:1-16, 19-20; Lk 1:30-33).  This psalm expresses a personal reflection of the relationship between the psalmist and the nearness of his God.  The psalm is framed around two metaphors: The Lord as the Divine Shepherd (verses 1-4), and the Lord as Divine Host of the sacred meal (verses 5-6).  In the Bible and in the ancient Near East, the role of a shepherd was often used as a metaphor for the king (2 Sam 5:2; Is 44:28; etc.).  It is the same metaphor that is used to express the role of God the Divine King who is the protector and judge of His covenant people (Ps 28:9; Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-16). 

Describing the aspects of shepherding, perhaps from David's perspective as a shepherd in his youth, the inspired writer provides a picture of his relationship with God as he seeks to live a life of holiness (verses 2-3).  Under the Divine Shepherd's constant guidance, the psalmist and his people, who are the sheep of God's flock, are led with tenderness and compassion.  The Divine Shepherd takes into consideration the fears and weakness of His people, leading them not by the fearful raging rivers but by the quiet waters (sheep have a fear of drowning and will only drink from still waters).  His tender care gives the psalmist confidence that with God's shepherding he will reach the green pastures of God's heavenly kingdom (1 Pt 5:4; Rev 7:17).  Even in the midst of trials and sufferings, the psalmist feels a sense of security as he trusts in God to lead and protect him because, despite his enemies, God the Divine Host has prepared a table for him when the time comes for him to enter into God's eternal rest.  The psalmist is overwhelmed by the abundance of God's mercy and covenant love.

For Christians this psalm takes on its full meaning in Jesus' statement "I am the Good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11, 14; Heb 13:20) and in the Eucharist.  The host metaphor of the psalm is fulfilled in the table of the Last Supper where Jesus, the host of the sacred meal, offered His disciples the sacred banquet of the Eucharist for the first time and where He continues to offer His faithful the Eucharist on the altar table at every celebration of the Mass.  It is a banquet that looks back in time to the Last Supper and forward in time to the heavenly banquet in God's eternal kingdom when the righteous enter into God's eternal rest (Rev 19:5-9).  It is the banquet of the just and the wedding supper of the Lamb and His Bride that we hope to share in the presence of all the saints, including the faithful David.

The Second Reading Ephesians 2:13-18 ~ The Church's Unity as One Flock in Christ
Brothers and sisters: 13 In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.  14 For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, 15 abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile both with God, in one body through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.  17 He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

St. Paul writes about the Gospel of salvation that God worked in Christ for all peoples.  The Gentiles, those who were once "far off" (verses 13 and 17), did not have the Jews', "those who were near" (verse 17), messianic expectation.  They lacked knowledge of the One, true God, worshipped false gods, and they had no hope of salvation.  But through Christ Jesus all these barriers between Jew and Gentile have been transcended (verses 13-14) by Jesus' fulfillment of the Mosaic old covenant Law (verse 15a).  Now Jews and Gentiles have been united into a single religious community (verses 15b-16) and imbued with the same Holy Spirit they worship the same God and Father (verse 18). 

The Gospel of Mark 6:30-34 ~ Jesus' Compassion for the People who are like Sheep without a Shepherd
30 The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught.  31 He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."  People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.  32 So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.  33 People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.  They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.  34 When he 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. 

The Apostles have returned from their missionary journey to the towns and villages in Judea where they healed the sick, cast out demons, preached repentance, and announced the coming of the Messiah's Kingdom ( Mk 6:7-13 ).  Knowing that His Apostles are exhausted after their mission, Jesus invites them to come away with Him and rest both physically and spiritually, but this is not possible because the crowds of people found them.  St. Mark is the only Gospel writer who consistently mentions the personal sacrifice Jesus and the disciples experience during Jesus' ministry.  Mark notes that they had no opportunity to even take a meal without being interrupted by people seeking Jesus (verse 31b).  To provide for the needs of His Apostles, Jesus takes them by boat to a deserted place.

34 When he 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. 
Jesus and His disciples came ashore only to discover that the crowd had found where they were going and were already gathered in great numbers when they disembarked.  Instead of being angry that His plan to take His Apostles on a retreat was now impossible, Jesus feels pity/compassion for the crowd.  Compassion isn't just a human emotion; it is one of the attributes of God (Ex 34:6). 

Jesus characterizes the crowd as "sheep without a shepherd", which recalls the prophecy in Jeremiah 23:5-6 and Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16.  Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel promised God Himself will come to shepherd His people because of the failure of Israel's shepherds/religious leaders (Jer 23:3; Ez 34:1-6).  And Jeremiah and Ezekiel both prophesied that a Davidic Messiah would come to shepherd God's people.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:16; 23:5) and has come to shepherd God's covenant people.  He is both the Messianic Davidic shepherd prince and God Himself come to rescue His people and to lead them to salvation.  And the Church is the "flock of which God himself foretold that He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ himself, the Good shepherd and Prince of Shepherds, who gave his life for the sheep" (CCC 754).

Catechism References:
Jeremiah 23:1-6 (CCC 754)
Psalms 23:5 (CCC 1293)
Ephesians 2:14-16 (CCC 2305)
Mark 6:34 (CCC 553,754)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015