Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 22 July 2012
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Mark 6:30-34; Ephesians 2:13-18
The political and religious leaders in Jeremiah’s time failed their people spectacularly, with catastrophic consequences. Sound familiar? Their foolish and self-serving choices led to a crisis of faith and ultimately to exile for the people of God. But the prophet holds out hope for the battered and betrayed community – God will restore them and appoint better shepherds to lead them. Ultimately God would send the great Shepherd, descendent of king David. The name they will give him, ‘the Lord our justice’, points to one important attribute of all good leaders. The incompetent shepherds make decisions for all sorts of reasons, ultimately self-serving, but the shepherd whom God appoints acts righteously and for the common good. When we despair of our leaders, the psalms invites us to hope in God and in Christ the Good Shepherd, as we pray and work and wait for a more just society.
Jesus embodied the servant leadership of the true shepherd. We see him caring for his little band of disciples. He had trained them and challenged them, sending them off on a mission. Now when they return, he takes the time for them to share their experiences with them. As well as affirming them, this enhances the quality of their learning. He is concerned for their wellbeing. He gives them the gift of his presence and his undivided attention. As a shepherd leading them to green pastures and beside still waters, he says to them: “Come away by yourselves and rest a while.” He would have liked their rest to have lasted a lot longer than the boat trip, I am sure, but when they arrive on the other side, they are confronted by the crowds. His heart goes out to the ordinary people who seem so lost and leaderless. He has not only come to serve his disciples, but with them to serve the world, and so he responds in compassion to their real need and begins to teach them. Jesus isn’t lecturing them, he is awakening their imaginations to the possibilities of the Kingdom of God. He offers them hope, an anchor in uncertain times and a compass to travel with toward a better future.
Jesus didn’t teach in words only, but in actions. And the most revelatory of his actions was his death by crucifixion, an act so profound that we never plumb the depths of its significance. In this passage in Ephesians, Paul focuses on Jesus’ death as bringing peace and reconciliation, not only with God but also with those who were considered to be outside the people of God. Paul encountered a lot of opposition in the Early Church for his radical teaching that the requirements of the law that built up a wall between Jew and non-Jew, such as circumcision and dietary laws, were done away with by the death of Jesus. Paul implies that the Shepherd promised by Jeremiah isn’t only for his own people, but also for those who were considered outsiders. That is a quality we don’t always want in a leader, a concern for the global well-being and not only for the narrower interests of our own group. But the one who brings God’s justice to the world, who embodies God’s righteous wisdom, is not parochial. Peace for some at the expense of others is not real peace. We still need the great Shepherd to teach us, to open our imaginations to the global possibilities of the Kingdom of God in our midst.