16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
This Sunday forms a unit with the preceding Sunday: The Gospel of these two Sundays (15th & 16th) is dedicated to the mission that Jesus entrusts to the Twelve in the course of his preaching.
We saw last Sunday that, at the moment of their departure, Jesus gave them precise and strict instructions concerning the manner of living and the way they must behave toward their hearers.
Today, we see that, upon returning, the disciples report to Jesus what they have done and taught. The Lord wants to lead them to a place apart, to take some rest. But the crowd catches up with them, and must renounce the idea of taking a break. These two Sundays constitute a unit, that concludes the reading of the first part of Mark’s Gospel.
In the Gospel, St. Mark depicts Jesus as a shepherd. Mark sees Jesus as being the ideal leader, who fulfills the longings of the human heart, the one whom God promised to send. Mark’s Jesus sees that a vast crowd has followed him. He pities them for they are like sheep without a shepherd.
The apostles return after their mission, and Jesus wants them to go to a secluded place and rest for a while. Jesus wants them to take care of body and soul. They need to eat, drink and rest. More importantly, they need to be together as a community to share and reflect on their ministry. They need to pray and enjoy solitude. Jesus does not want them to destroy the balance between active ministry and the contemplation-rest they need.
The crowd finds the apostles resting. So, Jesus teaches the crowd at great length. For Mark, Jesus is the new shepherd who leads, guides, and nourishes the flock. Mark’s Jesus resembles the shepherd in Psalm 23. That shepherd, of course, is God. Jesus’ reaction to the human condition of the crowd -compassion- is also God’s reaction to people. Jesus was moved to take care of the crowd. God has compassion on us. God gathers the flock and keeps us together. God leads and cares. God guards the flock. Jesus is God’s shepherd for the flock of his people.
And who is that flock today? We are. We are the sheep of God’s world pasture. God feels for us; God has compassion for us. When we are scattered and leaderless needing solutions to problems, having to face difficult situations alone, God does not leave us. The shepherd is still here. When we feel there is no meaning to our lives; when all has fallen apart, God is with us, caring for us. When we have no reason to live or to die; when suffering and disease seem to dominate, God has not left us. He is still there. Jesus learned, as all of us have or will, that in the darkest, leaderless moments of our lives, God is there shepherding us.
In today’s readings we are depicted as sheep. This is only because God is first of all our Shepherd. Trust, sense of security, total providence, intimate relationship -these are the characteristics indicated by the sheep image in today’ readings.