This image of Jesus, the Shepherd, reflects the Gospel reflection for July 18 in which Father Garry Koch speaks of how Jesus put his desire to rest and spend time with the disciples aside and instead teaches the crowd. Photo from Freepik.com
This image of Jesus, the Shepherd, reflects the Gospel reflection for July 18 in which Father Garry Koch speaks of how Jesus put his desire to rest and spend time with the disciples aside and instead teaches the crowd. Photo from Freepik.com
Gospel Reflection for July 18, 2021, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus sensed among the people of his time that it was a period of restlessness. Mark notes that Jesus tried to get his disciples away after their initial missionary work to rest a while. Yet, even as they tried, Mark says: “People were coming and going in great numbers.” Trying even harder to escape, Jesus took them to a place that he thought was off the beaten path so they could relax and, likely, process and debrief their experiences in the various towns and villages. Still we read: “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

The crowd had a hunger for what Jesus was feeding them – the immanence of God’s Kingdom, the forgiveness of their sins, and that sense of peace that comes from knowing God’s will for one’s life. They couldn’t leave Jesus and the disciples alone. We might say that we are seeing the fruit of the disciples’ early work. The crowds followed them to Jesus. As “they were like sheep without a shepherd,” Jesus put aside his desire to rest and spend time with the disciples, and then teach the crowd.

Our own age is also very restless. The amenities and luxuries allow us to find many ways to distract ourselves from the emptiness that often comes with life. We can easily overlook the fact that we are lost and searching for a deeper sense of meaning and life’s purpose.

Likely the people at the time of Jesus didn’t think of themselves as “sheep without a shepherd.” Yet, that restlessness is apparent all around us, and certainly within our own Church.

When people don’t know they are searching, and worse when they think that they have found something that only offers a false or fragile meaning, they don’t know when or how to stop and listen. It doesn’t take courage to search, but it does take a certain wisdom to know that one is searching and to pause to listen when we find that which offers true peace – faith in Jesus Christ.

Our egocentric society has left many thinking that it is good enough to be our own shepherd, that the only voice we need to hear is our own, echoing though the recesses of our minds. The only other voices we want to hear are those that affirm what we already believe or know. Here there is not only a lack of humility, there is a real lack of wisdom, understanding and even a basic curiosity about life itself. However, such hubris comes with the confidence that one is wise, informed and curious about the world. Here there is no desire for a shepherd for all that one seeks is the inner self and nothing greater.

We often think that we are wiser than the shepherds that the Lord sends to us. When we believe that our own personal “wisdom” surpasses that of the ages, time-tested, and even revealed to us by Jesus and taught consistently by the Church, then we have chosen to make ourselves God. Hence the Church, our Pope, the bishops and priests, and even Jesus himself become irrelevant to our life of faith and personal dogma. Yes, there were such people even at the time of Jesus. We know that not all, indeed not even many of those “like sheep without a shepherd” who heard Jesus preach and even witnessed his miracles ended up following him. The way of discipleship is difficult. Jesus tells us that and we all know it. The goal for us as Christians is not necessarily to be successful, but rather to live our lives in pursuit of faithful discipleship. Very few of us ever master discipleship in our lifetimes, as all of us sin and live in a world that draws us away from discipleship.

For us what remains is to humbly recognize that we need guidance, prodding, challenging and shepherding along the path of life. I am not my own master. Let us pray for the courage to seek the Lord and to listen to him as he speaks to us through the shepherds that he sends to us.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.