|Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary
3-4, 5, 6
So as to be more attentive to the grace of God’s word in today’s
scriptures, imagine Jesus stepping out of the boat in which he and his apostles
had crossed the lake for a day’s vacation. The apostles had just returned
and reported all they had done and seen. It was usually a deserted beach
on weekdays and as they unpacked their few baskets, they begin hearing voices
off in the distance. They look at each other with question marks over their
heads, “Who told people we were coming here?”
Jesus drops his basket and sits on the side of a small hill and
welcomes all of them and invites them to sit down. The apostles shake
their heads with even more question marks.
We are praying with traditional images these days such as sheep and shepherd.
In the agricultural times of the prophets and of Jesus, vines, crops, harvesting,
and tools of the farm were handy images for speakers of the day. Sheep
were precious and the shepherd an important person. Sheep can seem to us rather
slow and willing to follow anybody or anything. The shepherders did
much following as the sheep searched for nourishment. We are invited
to pray with the tenderness which God has for the flock of Israel and with
which Jesus embraces those seeking healing and wisdom.
We pray with the picture of a gentle, caring, tenderly compassionate
God who guides us to what is good for us. We pray for the humility to
admit that we are not self-sufficient, but search for the wisdom of Jesus’
ways. We are not dumb as some say sheep are; we wander looking for nourishment
and satisfaction. We, like sheep, can and do make poor choices. Jesus
as shepherd leads us to health of spirit and mind. There is comfort
for which to pray in these readings.
Jeremiah, the prophet who claims that he was seduced by God and who gets
in trouble for speaking the word of God, is at it again in our First Reading.
He has been announcing ruin against various kings and leaders of Israel.
Jeremiah denounces the leaders as shepherds who have scattered the flock or
people of Israel.
A true prophet does more than complain or denounce, so an important
announcement issues from his spirit. God will send a new, faithful king.
Jeremiah switches images to another agricultural one. The one to come
will be a “shoot” off the stock of David. He will govern with justice,
tenderness and wisdom. He will save Israel and have a wonderful new
name which will indicate his personality and mission.
We humans reveal our truer selves in more ways than our words. God’s
personality or interior is what we call, “revelation.” We watch more
than listen to the actions which reveal Jesus who is the fullness of revelation.
Today’s Gospel reading is a study of the personality of God.
We, as readers and listeners of this story have an opportunity
to experience some revelation of ourselves. The apostles have told Jesus
all they had done so he gathers them together and goes across the lake for
a day of rest. Crowds of people find out where they are headed and
so they get to the shore before the vacationers arrive. How would you
feel? The apostles will reveal their spirit very quickly. Jesus
reveals his inner self even more so. He is "open to" or welcoming to
Our text uses the word “pity” which has the usual meaning of feeling sorry
for or condescending care. The Greek word here means that Jesus was
moved deeply, literally to his guts. This is quite dramatic, but a beautiful
revelation of his truer self. The beach is no longer a deserted place,
but now abounding with tender care. He will feed them in next Sunday’s
Gospel, but first his words of tender instruction. They come as lost,
but not dumb sheep who search for true nourishment. Food for the spirit
first, then there will be food for the journey of life. It is a wonderful
image of the Eucharistic liturgy.
There are many instruments and questionnaires arranged so that
we might discover little fragments of what we call our personalities. We can
understand more easily others when we learn their number, animal, letters,
or anything else which can assist in solving their mysteries. Does God
have a personality? Does Jesus? Did he fill anything out which
reveals to us a person to whom we can relate sincerely? We have his
profile and that of the infinite God within scripture, especially our Gospels.
Through the words of Jeremiah, God reveals that God will lead the beloved
people as a new kind of shepherd. That is a strong revelation of God’s
personality. Jesus, who in John’s gospel says that to see him is to
have a vivid picture of the God who sent him, displays his interior in every
action and story he did and told. Every story, miracle, gesture of Jesus
reveals both his person and personality as well as the God whom he calls
“Father.” He opens his heart and personality to the crowd and wants
to give them what is good for them. The apostles are always learning
new facets of their friend and take it inside themselves very slowly.
Most of the changes to our own personalities have been rearranged and strengthened
by one or more significant relationships. We are ourselves of course,
but influenced highly by the life patterns of these others.
As women and men of the liturgy, we put ourselves as close to Jesus as is
possible and we hope that something rubs off. It starts in Baptism and
becomes more and more a part of who we are. We live and how we live
in Jesus is revealed in our smallest actions and most public gestures.
As each of us is known mainly by our actions, so Jesus is known through those
same gestures. Each of us is ordained to reveal him according to our
unique ways, our personality. No questionnaire, inventory, or test is necessary.
What of God and Jesus does each of us reveal? What a great way
“The Lord keeps in our minds the wonderful
things he has done. He is compassion and love.
He always provides for his faithful.”