SUNDAY, SIXTEENTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34
THE LORD’S SELFLESS LOVE
Not often do all the four Scripture readings on a Sunday merge so effortlessly to focus on one theme. The first reading portrays God as the good shepherd, a message that the psalmist corroborates with his personal testimony, that Paul describes through the actions of Christ in uniting ‘those who are far away and those who are near’ into one flock, and that Mark reveals the compassionate Jesus to be. And in each of these readings we can find a personal message – a consoling reminder of how God has tenderly shepherded us personally, and an exhortation to be accountable in the shepherding responsibility assigned to us, promoting peace and unity amidst the flock. It will do us well to reflect on these readings in silent prayer, opening our hearts to listen to this personal message of the Lord for us, so that we may know the measure of his love and respond accordingly to the measure of our own.
However, I would like to take a moment to reflect on one specific action of the Lord and try to understand what he desires to teach us through it. To me, this gospel passage portrays a very homely picture. And, such a description coming from Mark, who is generally very direct and brief in his narration of the life of the Lord, proved by his being the shortest of the four, this gentle episode seems to stand out.
The apostles have just returned from their evangelizing mission. Jesus had sent them out two by two to proclaim repentance and the coming of the kingdom, with the power to heal and cast out demons. This whole scene of their return somehow brings to my mind the scene of a child returning home from school. As the child enters the house, he has so much to tell his mother about all that happened that day, and as the mother listens attentively, she is busy taking his bag off his shoulders, helping him out of his uniform, and getting him something to eat. She is interested in what he has to say, but is more interested in his wellbeing. Read the first few lines of this gospel passage with this image in mind. “The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. Then 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 time even to eat.”
How tender is the love of Jesus for these blessed men! Instead of taking stock of how faithful and fruitful they had been in the task he had given them, as most rabbis, office managers, team leaders, and company bosses would do, he is more concerned, as a mother, about their wellbeing – whether they have rested enough, whether they have eaten yet… This is the God we believe in, we pray to, and we have watching over us in every moment of joy and sorrow, health and suffering, success and failure. Do we approach him like a child?
As the passage progresses, something more profound is revealed of our Lord’s nature, something that is seldom easy for us. Jesus takes his beloved flock to a lonely place, ‘where they could be by themselves’, spending time with each other, sharing each other’s experiences, cherishing each other’s company. “But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So, as he stepped ashore, he saw a large crowd; and he felt compassion for them and set himself to teach them at some length.”
How many of us, when recognizing that the need of a stranger is greater than the need of a loved one, can set aside the latter and attend to the former with total focus and commitment? How many of us can put the selfless love for another above the natural love for one’s own? Let us spend some time today, pondering on what the selfless love of Christ truly means, and then we shall understand what is expected of us as God’s good shepherds.
Response: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
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