Interfaith Mission of Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi, Tulalip, WA
The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings - Roman Catholic Church
First Reading Jeremiah 23:1-6
Second Reading Ephesians 2:13-18
Gospel Mark 6:30-34
The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he 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.
Sermon - Fr. Dan Duval
As in all readings in the Catholic Churches throughout the world, today's readings are linked together by some com on threads. These groupings were made centuries ago and today it can be difficult to enter the mind of those who originally grouped them to understand what connections they were making and what connections they would like us to uncover.
Today seems to be a chronoloqical grouping of an extended timeline. In our first reading, the people of God are scattered and become "lost" apparently by being mislead and God promises to gather them back completely as a united people.
The responsorial psalm reminds us that The Lord is our Shepard, with an image that would have had much more resonance with the people of that time frame. In those days most people were at least familiar with shepherds and saw them on a daily basis either up close or from afar. Most knew that a shepherd's main job was to keep the sheep safe and this was done by keeping them close to each other and not allowing any of them to wander too far.
The second reading is telling us that Jesus came to repair the splintering in the first reading. He came to abolish the laws that had replaced the people as sacred beings so that all of creation can once again be reunited. This is a reminder that we are all beings from the same source and Jesus' goal was to remind us of that.
The Gospel, our third reading, takes a scene that comes on the heels of the beheading of John the Baptist. Last week we heard the story of Herod having John beheaded at the request of his step daughter and his wife because John was outspoken in that Herod and his wife were living outside of the law.
Soon after John's beheading, the apostles who were sent out by Jesus to preach and heal the sick, return, most likely frightened. John had been preaching against the ways of Rome and lost his head in return. Similarly, the apostles were carrying the message of Jesus, which was also seen as adversarial to the occupiers of the area. Romans and Jews did not live by the same laws and were culturally largely in opposition. Jesus and the apostles were also not only challenging the Romans but Jewish law as well. Jesus and the apostles were calling into question all of the formal rules of both predominant cultures of their time. They were questioning the morality of the laws and those who lived either completely outside any law or were so rigid with the laws that they were missing the point of them. We can imagine that the apostles, upon hearing about John's execution, put their own missions on hold and headed back to Jesus and perceived safety rather quickly.
Jesus, being empathetic to their fears when they arrived was wiling to take them away to rest and most likely lay low until the uproar over John had died down.
So, they set out by boat on this attempt to stay out of the public eye for a bit, but when they got to where they were going, Jesus sees people waiting to hear what he has to say. People who were desperate to find a way out of their poverty both body and soul.
The popularity of Jesus had made it quite difficult for them to sneak away until things cooled down a bit. When Jesus got out of the boat and saw numerous people waiting for him with hope, for a better life he made a decision to put his own safety second to the crowds desire to hear from him.
Those people were willingly risking their own safety by gathering in numbers, which would have surely gotten the attention of the Romans.
The Romans were careful not to let crowds gather in occupied territories. Crowds are difficult to control without proper reinforcements, so Jesus was very aware that he was putting himself at risk, especially so soon after John's execution, AND, he did it anyway.
Our times, are very much like the times in each one of our readings, which by themselves span a thousand years or more. This drama continues to play out of differences separating people; differences of all kinds, class, race, religion, cultures, gender, sexuality, and I could continue on about the things that have separated us over time, and they continue to play out.
It seems that the further we get from each other we lose sight of our commonalities and fear takes hold. As we heard in the first reading, "You have scattered my sheep and driven them away from me". How far do we have to go into fear to be driven from the unity of all creation; the complete essence of the Divine? And at what risk do we attempt to heal those divides? How far do we go with extending ourselves or putting ourselves in harm's way for another person, animal, plant, or any aspect of our universe that is under attack by fear or greed? At what personal risk are we willing to put ourselves out there to stand up for the other? At what risk to ourselves do we question the laws that hurt and further separate people from each other and the land that nurtures us? Are we willing to risk imprisonment? Assault? Or possibly even the loss of our lives by standing up for those who are under attack?
We each have our own causes and our own way of challenging the separateness we experience. We each have a place within ourselves that brings with discomfort and fear of going too far and possibly experiencing rejection, ridicule, physical or emotional harm. What is whispering in your heart as your role in the Divine's attempt to bring the flock of creation back into Atonement (At One Ment). How do we behave as Shepards to ourselves and that part of creation we are drawn to unite to the rest?
We are the Shepards that God is talking about in the first reading. We are the shepherds who will be raised up to answer that voice that is planted in our hearts and souls to reach out to others. We are being asked to find our own Divinity in our humanity just as Jesus did so we may see that Divinity in others. We are being sent as the apostles were to go out into the world for its healing. We are also being given permission to seek refuge from our own fear and after re-grouping, go again into the world as long as there is healing to be done.
May we experience the stillness in ourselves to hear our own calls, the support to nurture them, the confidence to enact them and a safe port in the storm when we are afraid of the magnitude of our tasks. May we always remember we are shepherded and called to be shepherds to all there is. Amen.