22 July. 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Jer 23:1-6. The shepherds who neglected the flock are severely blamed; but God promises to send shepherds who will care about his sheep.
Eph 2:13-18. By his death Jesus broke down the wall that divided Jews from Gentiles, and he now unites all peoples as children of the one Father.
Mk 6:30-34. A nice example of Jesus’ care for his apostles as well as his compassion for the people who were “like sheep without a shepherd”.
Shepherds For Today
In many areas of life today there is a crisis of authority. The simple fact of holding a leadership position no longer ensures loyalty and unquestioning obedience. The successful leader today is one who can win respect and generate trust, and for this one needs respect for people’s dignity and rights, sensitivity to their feelings and genuine concern for their well-being.
Shepherds, according to Jeremiah, are responsible for others in their care; ones who guide the people along the right path (Psalm), and have compassion on them in their weakness (Gospel). We often think of this image as applying only to our bishops – who claim the official title as “pastors” in succession to the apostles, or to our priests, the “local pastors” – but in fact the role of “shepherd” at one level or another, applies to all who hold positions of leadership. We are all invited today to examine, in the light of the readings, how we carry out our leadership potential.
The shepherds condemned by the prophet in today’s reading were leaders responsible for the nation’s welfare, who failed to live up to their responsibilities or to fulfil their duties worthily. Those with similar responsibility today might be political figures, ministers and government officials at various levels, who have the difficult task of ensuring a nation’s well-being, defending the rights of citizens, and of providing for their needs, insofar as possible. The “shepherd” image indicates that the authority of such people is not to be equated just with the ability to impose their will on those they govern. A shepherd’s role is ultimately one of service, not of dominion: to set a good direction and enable a community to live harmoniously together, with dignity and with a sense of personal fulfilment.
In Church, the term shepherd applies naturally to spiritual pastors and sometimes Church leaders can push the image too far, treating their people more like sheep that have to be prodded along than as intelligent human beings whose wisdom and commitment should be respected. In today’s world, the “Father knows best” attitude is not well received. The clergy cannot rule by decree, based on formal authority, but must focus on winning minds and hearts, and try to communicate an inspiring vision of Christian living, suited to our times. They must trust the maturity and responsibility of their people, if they want to promote a greater participation in Church life and activity.
Besides the shepherds of Church and State who hold official leadership roles, many others must in practice be pastors at a humbler level and in more humdrum situations. Parents and teachers are the most obvious examples of this. It is they who help to develop a child’s character, to lay the foundations for growth into Christian maturity. They communicate values by which young people can live, and foster faith and commitment that can grow over the years. For this they need the sensitivity and compassion that characterised Jesus as portrayed in today’s Gospel.
Keeping The Work-Life Balance
(by John O’Connell)
Many years ago I got the opportunity of visiting St. Petersburg, the then named Leningrad, in Russia. Gorbachov was the Russian leader at the time. The communist system was still in operation, although a mild form of it. There was much talk of glasnost and perestroika. My main memory of my visit was that everything was scarce and to get anything you had to queue for ages. Our small group was assigned a guide and as the week wore on he began to trust us more. At one stage he told us that in the Russia of those days work was a place you went to, not a job that you did. Anyhow you could not work productively in state run places – and nearly everything was run by the state – because either the tools or spare parts needed for the work were not available. People had become accustomed to waiting and you get paid, whether you worked or not. He agreed that this was wrong and not sustainable as a system, but it had one great advantage. It meant that you had plenty time and energy for what he called the four Fs – family, friends, festival and fun.
Now that the Soviet system has collapsed and that they have taken on the ways of the West, the presumption is that like us, all the emphasis will be on the four Ps: profit, performance, productivity and pay. Recently I said to a friend of mine that when I came to Bray over thirty years ago I knew nearly everybody in his outfit. Now, I hardly know anybody. I asked, is that just because I am now much older? Yes, he said. You are older but there is more to it than that. All the emphasis nowadays is very much on profit, productivity, not so much on family and friendship. Really it is a question of keeping the balance between the four Fs and the four Ps. We need them both. We need profit and productivity, otherwise the system collapses. But we also need time for family and friends, if humanity is not to go out the door.
In today’s Gospel the apostles had returned from their first mission, full of excitement. There were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. Jesus understood what they needed. ‘You must come away to some lonely place, all by yourselves and rest for a while’. This story clearly exemplifies the necessity to take time off from the constant routine of duties. The same message is built into the story of creation. God worked for six days and on the seventh day he rested. If God needs a rest, surely we do also. Fifteen hundred years ago the rule of St.Benedict gave the formula for good living: the threefold rhythm of prayer, work and recreation.
Our danger with the Celtic Tiger Ireland is that we are too busy, always rushing and have no time for pause and reflection. And so, the importance of the proper use of days off, holidays and Sunday. Sunday should be a day not just for Mass, but if at all possible different from every other day. Even a meal out with family and friends is so important. Obviously you could have food at home and in that way save money. But that is not the point. There are greater things than money to save: your marriage, your friendships, and your sanity. The words of Jesus still make a lot of sense: ‘you must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’.
(by Pat Donnellan; from The Furrow, July 2012)
The opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games is coming up, with two hundred and sixteen countries competing in the greatest sporting event on earth. Years from now stories like this one will emerge. At the Olympics in Berlin in 1936 two Japanese pole vaulters were tied for second place and the silver medal when it became too dark to complete the competition. On the winners podium they were disappointed that one was asked to accept the silver medal and the other the bronze even though they had tied. They were good friends and when they returned to Japan they cut the two medals in half. They joined half the silver to half the bronze. Each of them had, what they called, a ‘medal of eternal friendship’.
Sport is about winning and losing but it is also about friendship. Long after the shine is gone off the medals there will be smiles on the faces of friends we make through sport. The joy of sport or the joy of living life to the full gives us the satisfaction of knowing that we did our best. There is contentment in knowing that we made good use of the gifts God gave us. The old motto was a good one:
‘Who you are is God’s gift to you; What you become is your gift to God’.
Great athletes also do what we are all called to do in today’s Gospel. ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’. We hear also that ‘he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set about to teach them at some length.’ The shepherd has taught us many things. ‘He came to bring the good news of peace, peace to you who are far away, and peace to those near at hand’ (2nd Reading). When we disturb the peace the shepherd urges us to say sorry – to say sorry and to mean it. A failing in most of us is to include the ‘but’ when we say sorry. ‘I am sorry but you know I’m not in great form ! I am sorry but I didn’t know the full story !’. The shepherd of peace would like the apology to be unreserved. ‘It was my fault. Please forgive me. I am sorry’.
A heartfelt apology is the superglue of life. It can mend just about anything.
First Reading: Book of Jeremiah 23:1-6
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: “It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings,” says the Lord.
“Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing,” says the Lord.
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”
Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 2:13-18
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.