Holy Spirit

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ACTA COMMENTARY

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THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK                 Download: >>> Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr B


READINGS

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah                                      23:1-6

Responsorial Psalm                                         Psalm 22 (23). R/. v.2

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians       2:13-18

A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark      6:30-34

 

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There’s only one shepherdess in the Bible.  Though shepherds are mentioned 117 times, there is only one shepherdess. If you care to search for her, you will come to one of the world’s most intense love stories, filled with a sadness that urges women longing for a child to pray at her shrine.  Jesus met an amazing woman at a well and I think he was much taken by her (John’s Gospel, chapter 4). Rachel met her man at a well and he fell for her. You can meet her and her story where it starts in Genesis, chapter 29:1.

   Sheep are mentioned 201 times.  You will have noticed that God is always on the side of the sheep.  I know that the idea that the congregation is a flock of sheep is not exactly encouraging.  But before you hold your nose, think of the plus side.

Start with the lambs.  Everyone loves lambs but nearly everyone eats them.  Lambs are cuddly and carefree and we love to see them in the spring fields.  But lambs need looking after. They need sensible mothers to feed them and keep an eye on them.  Sheep and lambs need a good shepherd for dogs, wolves, and foxes, not to mention human villains, are dangerous enemies.  The more careful the shepherd, the safer the sheep.

We eat lots of lambs and lots of sheep.  The ancients did not eat much meat, especially people outside the richer classes.    Sheep were amazingly productive animals. They provided milk. They provided wool for clothing and all manner of household necessities, and, of course, wool was a very  marketable commodity. Their hooves provided glue. Their horns provided containers for oil and made excellent musical instruments, not to mention their use in battle. Their droppings, once dried out, made excellent fires.  Their skins were used in the construction of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, which served the people of Israel as God’s dwelling-place before a temple was built:

And you shall make for the tent a covering of tanned

                rams‘ skins and a covering of goatskins on top.              

Exodus 26:14

The sheepskins were the innermost covering, next to the Presence, as it were.  The goatskins only merited the outer layer. And, of course, it was a precious, healthy and unblemished lamb that was sacrificed on the most holy of holy days, Passover.

It is not surprising that the good shepherd became an image of the good king throughout the Middle East where sheep and goats were the most common domesticated common animals.

 Not for nothing are we told that David was shepherding his father’s sheep when God spotted him and called him to be king.  Not for nothing is God named the good shepherd for God is the supreme carer, protector, and provider of people. The image of the shepherd is everywhere in the Bible, not only in the Bible’s most famous song, today’s Responsorial Psalm.  Not for nothing were shepherds the first people to be invited by an angel of the LORD God to the manger where the child lay.  These shepherds were the first to hear the gospel that removed their fear, the first to hear the good news of a great joy that a Saviour had been born into our world, a child identified as Christ the Lord.  I know it’s a familiar story but hear it again and glory in it as the shepherds did:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace

among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:8-20  

  Of course there were good shepherds and bad shepherds.  As if we needed the telling, Jesus insists that it is important to know the one from the other.  Most important of all is to know that God is the Good Shepherd of all humanity, and to know what God does to earn the title.




A reading from the prophet Jeremiah                                    23:1-6

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD”.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares 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 dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness”.

The word of the LORD.



  Jeremiah lived through the darkest days of ancient Israel.  A priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, he was called to be a prophet during the ending of the Assyrian dominance in the Middle East and the rise of the Babylonian Empire.  Consistently he warned the kings of Judah to avoid alliances with Egypt against the powers of the north and especially he warned against rebellion against the increasing expansion of Babylon.  But a revolt took place and Jerusalem was sacked, its walls torn down, its people deported to sit, as the psalm says, by the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137:1).

 Above all the Temple in Jerusalem was flattened to the ground and the Presence of God was without a home in what was once the Holy Land.  Jeremiah ended his days in exile in Egypt.

His whole life as priest and prophet was devoted to protesting the policies of kings which would and did lead to the destruction of all that was holy and to the most severe exile in the people’s history.   If the shepherds pursue alliances that were bound to lead to destruction, then such kings were no true shepherds. It is these kings who are castigated in today’s reading.

What we must learn from Jeremiah’s words to us is that though human potentates, princes and politicians, may lead their people to death and destruction, rescue is at hand.  God will not stand idly by. The destiny of all peoples is in God’s hands. While Jeremiah is sometimes a prophet of doom, he is always a prophet of hope. For whatever catastrophes he saw as a result of royal incompetence and political stupidity, he always insisted that the LORD God would rescue his people and restore them to safety and security.  True shepherds will come and no sheep shall be lost.

  The star of the future will be a new King David and the hallmarks of the new shepherd will be wisdom and justice.  Right rule will prevail and the two ancient lands of Israel and Judah will be delivered from foreign domination and rest secure.  In fact, there was no permanent peace, no endless justice, no lasting security, except now and again. What Jeremiah hoped for has yet to happen.  Not many swords have been turned into ploughshares in the Middle East.

 

Responsorial Psalm                                         Psalm 22 (23). R/. v.2

    R/. The LORD is my shepherd:

              there is nothing I shall want.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

                                   R/. The LORD is my shepherd:

              there is nothing I shall want.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

Even though I walk

through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

                                   

                                    R/. The LORD is my shepherd:

              there is nothing I shall want.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

                                   R/. The LORD is my shepherd:

              there is nothing I shall want.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

for ever and ever.          R/.

A reading from the letter of St Paul 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 himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And 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 word of the LORD.

This reading would be more intelligible if it started a sentence or two earlier.   This section of the letter makes a contrast. You were pagans, knowing nothing about God.  Now because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you have been called to share faith in God.  As the Jewish people knew God, so now you know God, having been brought close to God by being united to Jesus Christ.  Before you were not close to God as were God’s people, the people of Israel, those identified by circumcision. You were without Christ.  You were alienated from Christ’s people, the community of Israel. You were not part of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. You were outsiders, with the hope that God’s covenant promised.  Indeed, you were living in a world without God.

  But now you are in Christ, so that when God looks at Christ he sees you.  What the life, death, and resurrection brought about is for all people. You people once far off from God are now brought near to God, as near to God as Jesus is.   Whatever divided Jew from Gentile, Gentile from Jew, has been removed. All barriers have been broken down. Where there was hostility now there is peace. All laws and commandments which created barriers have been removed.  The walls have been brought low. Because Jesus lived and died for all people, all are reconciled to each other; the many have been made one. Peace reigns.

  The writer ignores the hostility that from the beginning of Christianity had darkened both Christianity and Judaism.  In the beginning, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us, all Christians were Jews but very quickly Christians reached out to non-Jews.  They believed (some of them) that Jesus and his message was for the world. Most Jews did not accept this. The division that now exists between Jews and Christians goes back to the very beginning.  The author of Ephesians ignored this or else passionately hoped that one day both Jew and Gentile might know the reality of what Jesus accomplished. The reality is that a Jew called Jesus came to his own and through them invited everyone to come into God’s house and be at home there.






A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark      6:30-34

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place 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 desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

The Gospel of the LORD.

When we reach the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of this Year of Mark, the Gospel begins an intensive teaching section for these disciples who have returned from their training experience.  We will find that Jesus especially targets his teaching at the disciples, even giving them exclusive cramming lessons. Along with Jesus, we will marvel at how slow they are to understand.  What we must do is stay alert. For when Jesus teaches his disciples, Mark is teaching his readers and hearers.

  Today’s Gospel begins with the return of the Twelve from their practical training experience.  These fledgling apostles are able to report to Jesus a successful mission of teaching and healing.  Jesus invites them to come to a desert place (again!) and rest up after their labours. We note that many were pressing upon them and yet again they hadn’t an opportunity even to eat.  Even an escape in the ever-present boat fails, for folk from all the towns around managed to get to their destination ahead of them and are there waiting when Jesus and his disciples arrive.  It is important to pick up on the fact that people, many people, flocked to hear Jesus. Again and again, Mark emphasises that crowds gathered around Jesus as he travelled about the countryside of Galilee.  How Jesus responds to these crowds is a constant model for future apostles. They must learn from Jesus that gentleness, kindness, consideration, and care, coupled with a great deal of tolerance and understanding are the order of the day if people are to be brought to God.  Jesus is the model for all ministers in the Church. How Jesus acts is how they are required to act.

  The last sentence of today’s Gospel reading is worth a lifetime of meditation, especially if you have any shepherding to do.  Ponder it phrase by phrase:

When he went ashore

he saw a great crowd,

and he had compassion on them,

because they were like sheep

without a shepherd.

And he began to teach them

many things.

Reflecting on, the riches of this sentence please note what happened next: the shepherd fed the hungry.  Teaching and Feeding. Word and Sacrament. Scripture and Eucharist. Mass.



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[For the next five Sundays the Gospel reading is taken from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St John.  We return to Mark’s Gospel on the Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year of Mark, Year B. This commentary will resume at that point.  Unfortunately the Lectionary skips Mark’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the rest of chapter 6, resuming at the beginning of chapter 7.  Of course you can read the rest of chapter 6 for yourselves and I will, please God, meet you for chapter seven.]

Joseph O’Hanlon   







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