Theme – Jesus Christ the True Shepherd
One of the titles of the king of Israel was Shepherd. This was taken from agricultural background. Some of the great patriarchs and leaders of the Jews were actual shepherds like Abraham, (Gen 21:28), Moses, (Ex 3:1), and King David, (1Sam 16:11). Just as shepherds combine the gift of strength and tenderness in taking care of their flock so are kings expected to pasture their people, both the strong and the vulnerable. They were to take special care of the widows and the orphans.
Just as shepherds protect and lead their flock to greener pastures, so were kings expected to provide security for the people of Israel and lead them to God who is their grand protector and provider. During the prophecy of Jeremiah which lasted from 628 BC to about 586 BC, there were good and bad kings in Israel. King Josiah who reigned from 640 – 609 BC was a good king. He implemented religious reform during his reign which included calling the Israelites to repentance by renewing the covenant God made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai. The Jews had abandoned this covenant by worshipping Baals. Josiah destroyed the altars of Baals and renovated and refurbished the temple in Jerusalem. It was during the renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem that the Priest Hilkiah discovered the book of Law which was given to Moses, (probably the book of Deuteronomy). Josiah then based his reform on the book of Law.
However, after the death of Josiah, his son Jehoiakim took the Israelites back to idolatry by worshipping Baals and other false gods. He turned deaf ears to the word of God as prophesied by Jeremiah, (Jer 23:1-6). He even tore and burnt the scroll which was written to him by Jeremiah, warning him of the catastrophe which was going to befall Israel unless he led the Israelites to repentance.
It was within the context of Jehoiakim’s idolatry that the Lord said in the first Reading, “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be scattered.” The Lord also promised a remedy by stating that “see the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David who will reign as true king and be wise.”
That shepherd – king as prophesied by prophet Jeremiah is Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, (Mk 6:30-34), Jesus took care of the needs of his disciples and the crowd. He realised that his disciples, who had returned from evangelising the people of Israel by preaching repentance, healing the sick and casting out demons, needed some rest. In our 24 hour news-cycle world, and seven-days-a-week work-cycle, (some people work two to three shifts a day to make ends meet), coupled with our other commitments which include house chores, we may not have time to rest. We need to strike a balance between work and rest so that we may renew ourselves and work better. Only God who is our Creator and provider has the capacity to work non-stop.
Jesus, as God made man for our sake, took pity on the crowd and taught them at length for the crowd was like sheep without a shepherd. Just as God goes on working so does the Son, (Jn 5:17). Jesus as the true shepherd takes care of us whether we are awake or asleep, and he leads us to God the Father unlike the bad Israelite kings like Jehoiakim who led the Jews away from God.
The preying upon children by some of those who ought to have been shepherds and the cover up of those heinous crimes had given the Body of Christ, (the Church), a cancerous wound. These actions have led some members of the flock to become disillusioned with the Church and have also created a platform for all those who are anti-religion to attack her. As a Church, we acknowledge and apologise for the evil perpetuated by some members of the Church leadership, (shepherds). We have learnt from our mistakes and in all Australian dioceses and archdioceses concrete steps are being undertaken to ensure that these abuses do not happen again. On a similar note, I condemn all forms of abuse which take place in homes, either perpetuated by parents who have abnegated their roles as parents or by relations of the children. All forms of child abuse must be uprooted wherever they are found.
I wish to acknowledge and thank God for the good work of many shepherds in the Church, (bishops, priests, parents, uncles, nieces, foster parents, etc). May Christ who is our Good and Eternal Shepherd always lead us to the Truth and may he also heal us of the hurt and the brokenness in our lives. Amen.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp