JULY 22ND, 2018: SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
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.
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.
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.
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.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
"The LORD our justice."
Brothers and sisters:
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.
For he 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,
that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace,
and might reconcile both with God,
in one body, through the cross,
putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
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.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
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.
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.
When John McKenzie wrote his now classic Authority in the Church in the late 60s, he shook up lots of Catholics, pointing out that our sacred authors are much more concerned with the authority sins of our leaders than those of the general populace. Followers of God should be more conscious of how authority is exercised than how it’s obeyed. Today’s three readings certainly reinforce the former Jesuit’s thesis.
Many of us don’t appreciate the biblical separation of ministries and/or gifts. For instance, we frequently confuse those who exercise authority – the administrators – with those who proclaim God’s will – the prophets. Prophets are the people’s conscience; unique individuals who give us the future implications of our present actions. Administrators, on the other hand, surface and listen to the prophets and put their words into concrete actions, demonstrating how to make God’s will part of our everyday lives. (Carroll Stuhlmueller was convinced prophets normally make lousy administrators; administrators, lousy prophets.)
When our sacred authors challenge those in authority to get their act together, they’re accusing them of not instructing people to live their faith as God wants it to be lived. Almost always, these administrators aren’t living it correctly themselves, so it’s no wonder those in their care aren’t living it correctly.
The message God wants prophets to proclaim and administrators to carry out certainly isn’t easy to accept. It has nothing to do with religious rituals or catechism trivia. It goes to the heart not only of one’s faith, but to one’s personal value system.
The Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians leaves no doubt about how difficult it is to be committed to the message he proclaims. As a disciple of the risen Jesus, he’s expected to work on forming diverse people into one community of faith. In this situation, it’s those who are “far off” (Gentiles) and those who are “near” (Jews). He’s expected to “break down the dividing wall of enmity” that separates them, something we haven’t been able to successfully pull off to this day.
Six hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Jeremiah realized his fellow Jews couldn’t even unify their own people. Yahweh had prophetically sent the right message, but the “shepherds” – the kings – hadn’t passed it on to the ordinary people. The prophet saw only one solution: replace the shepherds, and send one special, prophetic shepherd – the messiah – to take care of the problem once and for all. That’s where today’s gospel comes in.
Jesus has just sent out his disciples to eradicate evil (last week’s commentary.) Now they’ve returned for a little r&r. In the process Jesus mentions one of the main things motivating his ministry. “When he . . . saw the vast crowd his heart was moved with pity . . . for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” If they’re not blessed with good leaders, Jesus simply must step in and personally exercise that ministry. But, just as he did in the prior passage, he shares his ministry with his followers.
Sadly, we never hear that part of Mark’s theology. It’s contained in a passage omitted from our liturgical readings: the miraculous feeding of the people. In Mark’s version of the event, the disciples do the actual feeding. Jesus’ role is simply to motivate them to share their meager food, then bless it before they distribute it. It’s their food; they do the sharing.
Jesus’ message is that we become one by sharing what little we have with others. We no longer need to fall back on what our leaders say, or don’t say. We carry on the ministry of Jesus. We don’t need more authority than that.
We just can’t forget what Scripture says about those in authority.