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Ordinary Time 16 (B)
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Readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Jeremiah 23, 1-6
  • Woe to the shepherds!  I must make sure to warm up my voice to match the strength of this opening condemnation.  Five times I repeat “shepherd,” first to judge the leaders who mislead and scatter and later to praise their successors who will indeed truly shepherd them.
  • It is, after all, someone else’s flock that they are pastoring, God’s: my pasture, my people, my sheep, my flock.  I will make it clear that God cares about all those who belong to this family, to the point that none shall be missing.  The fate of Israel and Judah was not dispersal; the leaders saw the facts on the ground, but the prophet saw more deeply and pleaded for God’s intentions.
  • The prophet repeats the solemn formula Thus says the Lord four times.  It will not be an empty phrase when I speak it out, because God never fails to carry out what is declared.
  • The condemnation was leveled against the political and ritual leaders of Israel: You have not cared for them.  And the promise conveyed by the prophet presents a time when a righteous shoot to David shall do what is just and right.  We believe that the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus the good shepherd, but I think a judgment of all secular and sacred leaders of our time is also in order.
  • We have created a Department of Homeland Security, but the only bearer of true security in our times is our Creator and Sustainer.  When I speak the words Israel shall dwell in security, my thought and vision are pointed at God who alone achieves such a state of peace in our midst. 
  • I end with the words “The Lord our justice, the name of the eschatological deliverer, and I imagine them proclaimed in every Christian assembly around the world.  May my own humble contribution to this global shout help to keep the echo strong and unforgettable.
  • Climax: I myself will gather.  Everything we celebrate in our assembly is God’s work.  I will bring them back is the promise that will be fulfilled at the end of time.
  • Message for our assembly: How do we know that we are ministering today in the spirit that God wishes?  What kind of security is that which the prophet promises?
  • I will challenge myself: To project faithfully the Hebrew rhythm that in itself speaks the security that the people seek, then and now.

 

2. Ephesians 2, 13-18

  • In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.  These words ring in my ears and heart, and I will affirm them today in our congregation of Gentiles and immigrants.  I have written hymn lyrics inspired by this section of Ephesians: “Did you come from around the corner?  Did you come from the ends of the earth?  You are all God’s sons and daughters, no importa the land of your birth.”
  • He who made both one.  I see the clumsy wording of the literal rendering, and plan to speak more deliberately at this point.
  • How did Jesus do this for us?  The apostle recalls the blood of Christ and through the cross.  Those are easy words for me to say today.  Let me just consider how the Jews of the first century saw in Jesus a condemned criminal and the Greeks saw only incredulous nonsense.  These early communities of Jews and Gentiles together had to get over a lot, and they could only do it in one body and one Spirit.  If I will project the mind of the apostle, I have to find the right voice to conduct my listeners on the same hard but rewarding journey.
  • I hear another assuring word, ‘Shalom’ or peace, four times.  It is a question of God’s peace, where alone we can find the security mentioned in the first reading.  Let me find the proper voice to create a leitmotiv that ties the reading together along with the many actions of Christ who came and preached Shalom to us and who is our peace, the very embodiment of God’s Shalom.
  • Central theme: In Christ Jesus sounds the theme of the entire passage.  Listen to what Christ has done for us: He broke down the dividing wall of enmity, he abolished the law, he created in himself one new person, he established peace, he reconciled both.  And it continues to the last sentence.  Let me speak in a spirit of praise.
  • The message for our assembly: What is more important in our lives, our ethnic identities or our unity in the Spirit?
  • I will challenge myself: To make a conscious bridge that the members of the assembly can cross as they listen, meeting each other and welcoming brothers and sisters to themselves.

 

Gospel. Mark 6, 30-34

  • On one level my listeners can readily understand my reading.  We can imagine many people who give themselves to others so completely that they do not plan or miss physical comforts.  I refer to emergency room personnel, political campaigners and social protesters.  Is the Jesus of our Gospel story different in any way?
  • Maybe Jesus is not different when he and his disciples had no opportunity even to eat.  Other memorable men and women have electrified the people around them, hastening there on foot from all the towns and arriving before them. 
  • I don’t think that I hear anything heroic being reported in this passage.  But that is just the point!  Jesus was in many ways not so exceptional, as the people of Nazareth made so clear.  Others have matched his selflessness.  We learn something about him (and God) when we remember his commitment to others.
  • Toward the end of the passage comes the verse that links the Gospel to today’s other readings.  They were like sheep without a shepherd.  Here it is not a case of false leaders, but an absence of anyone to take charge.  Let me rehearse so that I can bring out that contrast with a sense of the pity that moved his heart.
  • Climax: He disembarked and saw the vast crowd.  We celebrate Jesus as ‘the man for others.’  Let me say this sentence not in a sense of disappointment but of opportunity.  And let me look beyond the human Jesus, to the God revealed in Jesus, who loves us with an all-giving and unconditional love.
  • Message for our assembly: The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all.  How eager are we to look for Jesus and share our lives and concerns with him?  What little faith do some of us have!
  • I will challenge myself: To project a ‘Christ for the people’ as I read.

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