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The Sheep and Their Shepherd

Jesus and the Apostles

The Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot - Brooklyn Museum, 2007, Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Brother Silas Henderson, SDS - published on 07/16/15

Reflection for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

“When Jesus 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.”—Mark 6:34

In recent months, many news outlets have been talking about a group known as the “Nones.” These are individuals who don’t identify with any particular faith group or religious tradition. Some will say they are “spiritual but not religious,” while others simply don’t see the value of religious faith. Perhaps you have friends or family members who feel this way. We can think of these individuals as “sheep without a shepherd.”

On the other hand, do you know people who give and give their time, energy, and financial resources to their families, parishes, and charitable groups, who always seem to be on the brink of burn-out and who seem to think that everything relies upon them? These are also sheep in need of a shepherd’s care.

The Gospel we hear this Sunday continues the story that we heard last week: Jesus sent the Apostles out to preach and to heal, and now they have returned home. Jesus sees how exhausted they are and leads them away from the crowds for a time of prayerful rest. But even then, the crowds of seekers and searchers continue to follow Jesus and his friends, and so, he begins to teach them, as well.

A frequently overlooked detail of this story is that Jesus is being a shepherd to both the Apostles and the crowds. He sees that the road-weary Apostles are in need of a break, but he also understands the crowd’s thirst for his message and his presence. The restful time Jesus provides for the Apostles strengthens them for the work ahead so they can continue his mission. The Good News that Jesus preaches to the crowds feeds their souls and helps them understand God’s love and mercy.

When Jesus shepherds them—and us—he is leading his “sheep” to a safe place of rest and nourishment. And so we discover an invitation and a challenge in today’s Gospel: we must be willing to be led by this Good Shepherd. How can we do this? One way is to celebrate the gift of Sunday. Let Sunday be a day of rest by taking time to be with God in prayer and worship and by spending quality time with our families and friends. When we have been refreshed and nourished by the Eucharist, the Word of God, and time with those we love, we are better able to reach out to those who need to hear the message of God’s love, inviting them into the Shepherd’s flock.

When have you experienced the loving care of the Good Shepherd? Where is Jesus the Shepherd leading you this Sunday?

Words of Wisdom: “I do not belong to the powers and principalities of this world but to the Good Shepherd who knows his own and is known by his own. In the presence of my Lord and Shepherd there is truly nothing I shall want. He will, indeed, give me the rest my heart desires and pull me out of the dark pits.”—Henri Nouwen in Jesus: A Gospel

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