16th Sunday of the Year

Guide and Shepherd

Although today’s gospel is only 4 verses long, it contains some important words and concepts which we should think about. Today’s gospel acts like a preface to the next five Sunday gospels, when we will read virtually the whole of chapter six of John. This chapter  contains the narrative of the miracle of the loaves and fish, along with the discourse or sermon of Jesus on the bread of life, and concludes with the mostly  negative response of the Jews to Jesus’ startling words. So this little gospel of Mark’s is important, as it offers us some pointers as preparation for what is to come.

Firstly the gospel tells us that the apostles rejoined Jesus. The word is more accurately translated as gathered around Jesus, and from that we immediately gain a different sense of what is being suggested. Rather than being a simple coming back together again, in order to perhaps reacquaint themselves with Jesus and with each other, there is a much more purposeful dimension being suggested. The apostles gather around Jesus in recognition of his presence and of his importance to them. They still need his guidance and his wisdom. They had gone out to preach repentance, but they return extolling all that they had done and taught as if forgetting that it was in Jesus’ name that they had been sent, hence Jesus’ suggestion that they come away to a lonely place. This word too does not quite convey the real meaning of what is happening. The word is better translated as wilderness or desert, and the connotations which this brings to mind are powerful and direct. The wilderness is where Jesus was tested. So we can see that we have a very particular imagery being created by the evangelist. It is one where the apostles are gathering around the presence of the Jesus, so that in his presence they are being directed to take themselves back to the moment of testing, where they are asked to consider what is it that is foremost in their hearts and uppermost in their minds. Perhaps we too can use this imagery to guide our own preparation for mass. As we gather together around the person of Jesus when we come into Church, are we able in a moment of reflection, to consider the issues that have tested us this week and of how and in what way we have responded to them.

The evangelist next introduces the image of a large crowd and of shepherding. The crowd conveys that feeling of chaos and uncertainty and perhaps due to the sheer weight of numbers, a level of fear. We know such situations can be alarming as we can easily experience panic about how we are going to cope. Emotions like these can crowd into our minds at any time, particularly when we are stressed by the strains of our all too hectic lives. We can easily sense that we are adrift in a crowd of uncertain feelings, where the outlook seems indeterminable to us. We need help and sanctuary, an arm around the shoulder, a guiding hand to show us the way forward. Jesus looks out on this crowd and takes pity on them. Again a better translation would be had compassion on them, exactly as the Samaritan had compassion on the victim of that mugging, and as the father had on his returning, prodigal son. This is how Jesus shepherds all who feel in any way adrift or uncertain as to how to manage.

So let us use this little gospel today to frame our thoughts as we prepare to read the miracle of the loaves and fish, a miracle which places before us the real presence of Jesus as the one around whom we gather, to be guided and shepherded throughout our daily lives.


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