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 shepherds did much following of their flocks as the sheep wandered, searching 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 even when we do not think it so. 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, but not with a whip or stick, but whisperings and callings. 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, the 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 them.
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.
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, because getting closer to Him invites them to become closer to themselves. As we know, this can be uncomfortable.
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 to live!
“The Lord keeps in our minds the wonderful things he has done. He is compassion and love. He always provides for his faithful.” Ps. 111
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