16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34
What does it meant to be “sheep without a shepherd?” Does it mean to be lost? Does it mean to be at risk, or in danger? At the mercy of the environment, in want, or in need? Does it mean to be without purpose or direction?
I presume that we all have had moments in our life when we have felt void of purpose or lacked direction. Times or periods when we go through the motions, act out of habit or routine. We, and again I presume, have all had time in our lives when we felt threatened; the wolves of life were circling, snapping their jaws and filling our ears with their growly threats. Moments in our life when fear gripped us, controlled us, and caused us to do and say things that we later regretted and wished we could have taken back.
Maybe you will disagree with me, however, I would suggest that might just be what it feels like to be a sheep without a shepherd; to be lost, fearful, discouraged, and in persistent doubt. To be a sheep without a shepherd is to live a life at risk, constantly on alert, always on the lookout for the next threat.
Jesus, after his disciples returned from their missionary journeys, instructed them to get into a boat so that they may get some rest. They headed to a desolate place, something that Jesus did himself, in order that they may refresh, restore, and prepare themselves. Yet, that isn’t what happened.
Imagine if you will the scene. Jesus and his disciples traveling in a boat and thousands of people walking along the hillside and shoreline tracking their progress. People who, maybe only hours before, were at their homes, doing their chores, engaged in their work, going about their day just as they did the previous days before, and were now traveling to a desolate place so that they may have an opportunity to see and hear Jesus. What caused them to leave their daily routine and go out into the wilderness? They did so, because they were people in need.
Some in need of physical healing, yes. There were those suffering from illness, disease, and deformities hoping for relief and a cure. But not all were suffering from illness or disease. What about those who were physically fit, lacking a deformity, or physical limitation? Why were they leaving their routine and seeking Jesus?
They came because they needed what we all need from Jesus: complete healing. Men and women who needed their sins to be forgiven and to be restored. Men and women who had been living their lives, going about the motions, yet, lacking in security, care, direction, and purpose. They were sheep without a shepherd.
This event in the Gospel of Mark signals a change in Jesus’s ministry. He never again enters into a synagogue to teach. His ministry goes public, so to speak. People surrounded him in the marketplaces and searched him out. His popularity grew, as did the crowds, but so did the resentment and scorn of the Pharisees and other religious rulers of his time.
Something happened to Jesus that day on a boat, as he saw the large crowd of people awaiting his arrival. As he looked upon these people, these sheep without a shepherd, his heart was moved with pity. He saw a group of people with their needs, their wounds, their despair, and lack of direction and he loved them.
In the verse, the Greek word translated as “heart” is not meant in the sense of an actual biological beating heart. His biological heart wasn’t moved. Rather, this word could more accurately lead to mean in English as “gut”; or the seat of our emotions. When we use the phrase, “I feel it in my gut” we typically are describing a feeling that is found in our very most inner self. That place down deep inside each and every one of us in which resides the very core of our humanity; the very essence of who we are. When Jesus’s heart was moved with pity, it was his very most inner self, the very core of all that he was, and is even to this day, which caused him to respond and to desire to shepherd his sheep.
Jesus’s love for you today is in no way diminished or lessened. Just as he looked upon those tired, misguided, and desperately lost people, and was so moved to responded to their needs, so too does he look and respond to you, here this day, in front of this altar.
We too, at times, act like sheep without a shepherd. We too have gotten lost in our sin and misguided intentions. We too have been surrounded by wolves, subsequently threatened to scatter, and have felt abandoned and forgotten. Yet, do not let us forget that Jesus loves us and his love for us is at the very center of who he is, for it is that love which calls us…calls us to him, who is our shepherd.