July 18, 2021. Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

(1) Jeremiah 23:1-6

God will raise up worthy shepherds for his people

The Lord says, “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.’”

Responsorial: from Psalm 23

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

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose;
Near restful waters he leads me;
to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)
He guides me along the right path
for the sake of his name.
Though I walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your rod and your staff
with these you give me courage. (R./)
You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes;
my head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing. (R./)
Surely goodness and kindness will follow me
all the days of my life;
In the house of the Lord shall I dwell
for ever and ever. (R./)

(2) Ephesians 2:13-18

A people reconciled and brought near by the blood of Christ

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

After a quiet retreat, Jesus returns to serve the crowd

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.

Eternal friendship

At an international sports event two pole-vaulters tied for second place and the silver medal when it became too dark to complete the competition. They were good friends, and on the podium they were disappointed when one was asked to accept the silver medal and the other the bronze even though they had tied. When they returned to Japan they cut the two medals in half and joined half of the silver to half of the bronze. Each then had what they agreed to call 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 like the superglue of life. It can mend just about anything.

Shepherds for today

In many areas of life there is a crisis of authority. The simple fact of holding a leadership position no longer ensures loyalty and unquestioning obedience today. The ideal leader is one who can win respect and generate trust, one with a clear sense of responsibility, who can get things done while respecting people’s dignity and feelings. Shepherds, in to today’s readings, are people of integrity who care for others (Jeremiah); people who help us follow the right path (Psalm), and show compassion toward others in their weakness (Gospel).
Some might think of the shepherd image as applying only to bishops — the official “pastors” in succession to the apostles, or to the local pastors in the parish —but in fact the shepherd role at one level or another, applies to all kinds of leadership. We are invited today by God’s word to examine what our own leadership is like.
The shepherds condemned by Jeremiah were the leaders who neglected their responsibilities and let abuses thrive. His message today might be to political figures, ministers and government officials at all levels, who have the task of keeping public order, defending the rights of citizens and promoting fairness for all, insofar as possible. The shepherd image suggests that authority is not mainly the power to impose rules. The shepherding role is one of service more than dominion. Its goal is to set a good direction and enable a community to live together in peace, where each individual has dignity and an equal chance of personal fulfilment.
While the term shepherd rightly applies to spiritual leaders, prelates can sometimes push the image too far, seeming to treat their people more like sheep to be driven than as intelligent human beings to be persuaded. In today’s world, the “Father knows best” attitude is not well received. As pope Francis so effectively points out, our clergy cannot rule by formal decree but must try to win minds and hearts, and communicate an inspiring vision, suited to our times. They must trust the maturity of their people, and promote a sense of owning the Church we belong to.
Besides the official leaders of Church and State, many others must offer pastoral leadership at a local and domestic level. Parents and teachers are the most obvious examples of this. In practice it is they who help to develop a child’s character, laying the foundations for growth into adult maturity. They pass on values by which young people can live, and foster qualities that can grow over the years. For this they need the sensitivity and compassion shown by Jesus in today’s Gospel. “He had compassion for them and began to teach them many things.”

Contemplative moments

We are very much in the middle of holiday time. We all need a break from our routine, whatever that routine might be. Most of the time we go on holidays with somebody, or we go away to stay with somebody. Most of us like to be with others when we are away from our routine. In the gospel we find Jesus taking his disciples away together for a period of rest and quiet. They have had a busy time and were full of all they had done and taught and wanted to share it all with Jesus. He suggests a change of pace and of location, to take them away to a quiet place, where they could rest. This was to be a time of reflection in the company of Jesus, a time when they did nothing except be present to each other and to the Lord.
In our own faith life we all need such desert moments, times when we try to be present to the Lord and to each other. We have a prayer group in the parish that meets on a Monday night; it is a desert moment, a short period of about 30 minutes when people sit in silence having listened to a short talk. We have another prayer group that meets on a Tuesday evening, when a group of people gather around the gospel for the following Sunday, and listen to it in silence for about thirty minutes and then share a little on how it has spoken to them. These are times when people are present to the Lord and to each other in a more intense way than is usually the case. They are little desert moments that people can share together, times when we can come away to rest for a while in the Lord’s presence and in the presence of other believers. Our church here is open every day until about 6.00 pm. Our church is that sort of desert space in the middle of our community. It is a place to which people can come away and rest for a while, in the words of the gospel. The silence can be an opportunity to share with the Lord what has been going on in our lives, just as in the gospel the disciples shared with Jesus all they had been doing and teaching. Other people can have that desert moment by going for a walk. As we walk we can become aware of the Lord and his presence to us, and we can become more aware of people in our lives, even though we may be walking alone. However we do it, as believers, as followers of the Lord, we all need to come away to some lonely place all by ourselves and rest for a while so that as to allow the Lord to be in a deeper communion with us.
If the first part of the gospel proclaims that value of coming away from our everyday cares, in order to be present to the Lord, the second part proclaims another value. The lonely place suddenly became a crowded place, even before Jesus and his disciples had reached the place. Jesus and his disciples stepped out of the boat not into quietness and peace but into human need and demand. We are all familiar with that kind of experience. We plan something and it doesn’t work out. We go somewhere expecting something and the opposite transpires. We want to be alone and we are inundated with people. Jesus and his disciples experienced a major interruption to what they were intending. Interruptions are part of all our lives, and as one writer put it, God is often to be found in the interruptions. Jesus responded to the interruption by become completely present to it. He did not try to avoid the crowd or to send them away; he became fully present to them. In the words of the gospel, ‘he took pity on them’, ‘he had compassion for them.’ That is very much at the heart of our own calling as the Lord’s followers, to be present to others, even when they turn up unexpectedly and interrupt what we had carefully planned. It is so easy to get worked up and irritated when something happens that is not part of the script we had in our head. We can be so fixed on that script that we can look on people as nuisances instead of being present to them with the compassion of Jesus. Jesus had the habit of spending time alone with God; it was those times of presence to God in prayer that enabled him to be present to others, no matter who they were or how they turned up. Our own coming away to be with the Lord will help us too to be present to those who come into our lives. Our contemplative moments, our desert times, help us to be contemplative, attentive, in our way of relating to those who cross our path in life.


One Comment

  1. Thara Benedicta says:

    The most favourite Psalm of all time is our Responsorial Psalm today – Psalm 23.
    Today we will relish the blessings in Psalm 23.
    Explanation of Psalm 23 and its reference to our everyday life:

    PART I: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing:

    This is the way God wants us to think. We lack nothing since He is our shepherd. We may be poor/unemployed/sick/single/widowed/waiting to be blessed with children/do not have multiple degrees behind our name … Let us not feel ourselves less because of our current status. Whatever it is, we belong to Him. We are important to Jesus the way we are now. While on earth Jesus came searching for the poor, the sick, and all the underprivileged people…
    God sent His only son to be crucified for you. Even if everyone else in the world had not sinned and only you have sinned, even then God would have sacrificed Jesus on the cross just for the sake of you alone. Only the cross can tell His love for us.
    God says ‘you are mine’. Similarly, let each one of us say with full realisation ‘Lord, You are mine’.
    PART II: He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul:
    It pains God to see us suffering. We may suffer due to:
    1. Our unrepentant sins
    2. God’s plan for us to go through the refiner’s fire
    3. Enemy’s attacks
    Our unrepentant sins:
    The good thief and the bad thief (who were crucified along with Jesus) are very good examples provided by Jesus for the sinner who repents and one who does not repent. Both the thieves committed the same sin. The only difference was – The good thief recognised Jesus, repented for his sins. He earned Heaven in a moment. Jesus was available on the cross for both of them. But the Blood of our dear Jesus could wash the sins of only the repentant sinner. Though Jesus sacrificed His blood for the bad thief too; similarly, when we repent, our sins will be washed and we can be freed from the suffering caused by sin.
    God’s plan for us to go through refiner’s fire:
    God as a loving Father likes to mould us for good. Saul had to be blinded for 3 days before Paul emerged out of him. The Apostle Paul also stayed in the refiner’s fire for 3 days. Similarly, when we go through the refiner’s fire, God controls the temperature. In His Fatherly love, He does not increase the temperature beyond what we can bear. The time we spend in the furnace is determined by how soon we undergo the change desired by God. Let’s obey God’s command soon and exit the furnace soon.
    Enemy’s attacks:
    Job was a righteous man certified by Almighty God. God did not want to mend Job or take him through the refiner’s fire. But Satan wanted to subject him to trials so that he will be tempted to sin. That was only for a brief period of time. Then God recompensed him four times of what he had lost.
    Whatever may be the cause of our suffering, it always pains God to see us suffer. He will give us rest. But in human minds, instead of enjoying the rest completely, we recall our times of struggle and look at ourselves with self-pity. We complain and lament about the bygone days of our struggles. So we really do not enjoy the peace that God has given us now.
    Once in a training session, the trainer asked the attendees to depict their life as a flowing river on a piece of paper. Whenever there were difficult situations in their life, he asked them to draw a swirl in the river. Some of the attendees had drawn few swirl pools, some drew many. But one uniform observation was that all the swirls were placed apart from each other, meaning there was a time of calm between the struggles. The trainer asked the attendees, “You have struggled during the swirls. Did you enjoy the calmness in between the swirls?”
    All the attendees replied, “No, we were recalling how bad those swirl times were and were crying, thinking about them”.
    That’s true in our lives too. As mentioned in the above Psalm verse, after a period of time God calms our storms. He leads us to green pastures and asks us to rest. But do really shut our mind on yesterday’s problem and live today freely? Once during prayer time, I was asking God what to do on the harsh words that were coming out of my mouth, whenever a particular problem was discussed. He gave a clear, easy-to-do answer -‘Do not think about that problem again’. Thinking too much makes a problem bigger. Since I no more think about that issue, am able to be peaceful, having more joy. I am able to handle the situation better.
    He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
    Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I will fear no evil, for you are with me:

    There is a question which we often ask, “Why me? Why me, Lord?” We wonder when we are going by our conscience in all that we do, keep God as our first priority in our life, doing everything that we can do to help others, why am I STILL suffering?
    The above verse says that even when we walk according to the right path He guides us, we will still go through the sufferings (dark valleys). Jesus says in the world you will have tribulations. So tribulations are a promise from God.
    So the difference is, when we walk through the darkest valley along with God, we are sure that we will come out of it. When we are traveling with God, God will guide us out of the dark valleys. Have we seen any of God’s chosen Apostles or Prophets or saints who have NOT walked through the dark valleys? Jesus had to go through Good Friday to celebrate Easter Sunday!
    PART IV:
    Your rod and your staff, they comfort me:

    Rod and staff are tools of a shepherd. A Rod was used for counting the sheep. This relates to one of our experiences of being disciplined by God. When we stop walking in the right path like, gossiping, complaining, getting bribes, not doing our chores, and so on.., then we stray out of His flock. His heart longs for us, searches for us, then like the prodigal son after our stay in the pig’s shed, we come back to Him. Staying in a pig’s house is not the will of our God the Father. His will for us is to stay in His mansion. Actually, we have more confidence in God’s rod than our own mind to make us walk on the right path.
    The other use of God’s rod is to scare our enemies. We are like His helpless sheep, who only know to cry for help when the enemy attacks. God saves us with His right hand. Hence, He is also called the Father of the helpless.
    There were two peers who were competing in a single higher-level position. One of the peers was not worried about walking on the right path. He tried to get into the hearts of the bosses and then kept complaining about the other peer. The other peer was innocent about all these happenings, was confident in Christ, and doing his work well. At the time of progression, when the situations were in favour of the guy who malpracticed, the whole of the project got scrapped due to other business reasons.
    All his manipulative thoughts and actions could not accomplish anything. It was a severe blow from the rod of Almighty God.
    When we are helpless, God will be our help.
    PART IV:
    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
    You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows:

    God wants to set a table of blessings before us in the presence of our enemies. He wants to anoint us with oil of joy instead of mourning. He wants our cup to overflow with blessings after blessings.
    Sometimes people wonder why these are only in the printed pages of the Bible and not in my life. Once God anoints us with blessings, He will surely make it happen. Consider the life of King David. David was anointed as the King of Israel when he was a boy. But then, he was on the waiting list to be killed by the king, before he actually took the throne. Looks like he had a terrible time for around 13- 15 years before the anointing could actually happen. David was coached in these years to handle the huge responsibility. Similarly, God will coach us but will not leave us until and unless His promises are fulfilled. Let us stay in tune with His little voice.
    PART V:
    Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life:

    God promises to give us a new bunch of mercies every morning. All of us have experienced it. Do you like surprising a little child with a gift? Similarly, God likes to keep surprising us with His good gifts. He thinks for us much beyond what we think for ourselves. When we wake up, let us admire this blessing and say, “Surely Your goodness and love will follow me today, Jesus”.
    PART VI:
    I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever:

    The Bible says that God has built us mansions in heaven. How much do we think when building our house on earth? We wonder how big it will be, who will be our neighbours… Spend all our savings and our future earnings for years on it. But even then, we will be able to stay in our house for a short period of time only… We will be staying in our mansions in Heaven for a long long time… Time without end. Jesus says store your treasures in your mansions in Heaven, where moth does not destroy, a thief cannot steal. At some time, we will be entering Heaven. Then will we be happy seeing our riches accumulated in Heaven or wondering what did we ever do on earth all these years?
    We can earn our everlasting treasures in Heaven only during our few years on earth. All our earthly sufferings however hard they may be, have an end time (when our time is done). Then we will be happily sitting in the mansion built by God.
    God will give the best warmth and relish to our tired souls.

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