Friday, July 10, 2009

The LORD Is My Shepherd; There Is Nothing I Shall Want

Jeremiah 23:1-6
"Woe to the shepherds who are misleading and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the LORD. "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD.

"Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous shoot, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our justice.”

Responsorial: Psalm 23

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake.
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.

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

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.

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Ephesians 2:13-18
Brothers and sisters: In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, he who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them and they follow me.
Alleluia, alleluia.

Mark 6:30-34
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 1Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

+++ +++ +++ +++

In today’s first reading, we hear one of the most renowned prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jeremiah is speaking to God’s people in the midst of one of the most terrible catastrophes every to best the children of Israel: the Babylonian captivity.

It was King Nebuchadnezzar, in the year 586 before the current era, who had the people of Israel sent to exile in Babylon. Half the population had been transported to the land across the Jordan, and the rest would not be long to follow. Jeremiah places the full burden of blame for this misfortune on the leaders of the people, both civil and religious authorities. It is because of their sins that the LORD has allowed his people to be driven away from the land of promise.

Then, the prophet concludes his message with the extraordinary prophecy: God himself will gather his people together, and return to the green pastures of Israel and raise up new shepherds who will care for them according to the will of the LORD. Yet, even this is not enough. The prophet goes further, announcing that, in due time, the LORD will raise up a true king for Israel, “a righteous shoot of David”, who will govern wisely, do what is right, and will be the salvation of God’s people. This is the name he will be given: Adonai Tsadku. The LORD our Justice.

Fifty years later, when Cyrus of Persia had defeated Babylon, he ordered that all of the captive peoples be returned to their homelands, where all of them would be free to worship whatever deity they choose in whatever manner they saw fit. He even sent architects, engineers and artisans to Jerusalem to build a new temple in which to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Babylonian captivity had taken place well over five hundred years before the birth of Christ, but even though it had occurred so long before, it was such a significant event in the history of Israel that it remained fresh in the minds of the People of Israel. When Jeremiah prophesied that God would send new and more faithful shepherds, there really had not any significant change in those five centuries. The promise would not be fulfilled until the moment Mary, a virgin of Nazareth, accepted the invitation extended by the Angel Gabriel to become the mother of the Son of God.

In last week’s gospel, we read that Jesus sent out his Apostles to teach and preach in the villages, to sure the sick, and to cast out evil spirits. At long last, it would seem, even at that time in a very small way, that the prophecy of Jeremiah was starting to be fulfilled.

The Apostles return full of enthusiasm from their missionary journey among the villages. But they were quite obviously tired and worn out and so Jesus invites them to come to a lonely place where they can rest. But they got no rest, because the people knew where they were going, and crowded around them, seeking to see and hear more.

I can sympathize with the apostles, who were trying to get away from the crowd, so that they could get some rest, but found themselves once again surrounded by folks who were looking for instruction – or was it that they wanted to see miracles rather than have the Good News preached to them?
At this point, it is Jesus himself who takes pity on them, and begins to teach them because, as the gospel says, they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus knows what they really need, solid teaching. Miracles and healings might pique their interest, but it will take the Word of God to satisfy them.

They have the same questions that we do: How did I come into being? How can I find inner peace? What is the best way to live in a way pleasing to God?

Jesus has the answers to all these questions and more. God created us to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him in the world to come. Our true destiny lies in that “other world”, the Kingdom of Heaven. We can begin to find inner peace by loving God will all our mind and heart and might, and loving our neighbor as we want God to love us.

Jesus has the answers to our questions; and they all come down to living a life deeply in harmony with God. And he not only tells us but shows us the way. He talks the talk but he also walks the walk.
And his walk takes him eventually to Jerusalem and up the hill to Golgotha where he gave his life for us. And on the Cross he shows us that the ultimate act of sacrifice is what gives life and salvation to the whole world.
And he invites us to walk with him; to walk with him on his journeys through Palestine where we can listen to his teaching and experience his healing ministry, and then to walk with him on that last journey to the Cross to suffer and die and rise to new life with him.

No wonder they wanted to hear more!

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