16th Sunday
(Ordinary Time - Cycle B)

Jeremiah 23,1-6
Ephesians 2,13-18
Mark 6,30-34

        This Sunday’s biblical readings present the work of Christ, as plan of “justice”, that is to say, of integral salvation and of peace for all of humanity.  He is the pastor announced by the prophets, that will realize the plan God’s life and mercy for his people (first reading); in him, all of humanity will come to be one people, without separations or discriminations (second reading); he is the pastor that is moved in front of men’s and women’s material and spiritual indigence.

        The first reading (Jer 23,1-6) uses the known biblical images of the shepherd and the flock to speak of the relationship between God and his people.  This is an oracle of Jeremiah, in which the conduct and government of Israel’s kings are criticized, they which were considered as shepherds of the people:  “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered ? it is the Lord who speaks!” (v. 1). Israel’s monarchs have become rich for themselves, they have not fulfilled nor preoccupied themselves with fulfilling the law of the Lord, they have not been interested in the country’s poorest, they have lived dominated by egocentric interests and sold themselves out to foreign powers.  The victims of this entire situation are the people, above all the most needy sectors of society.  In their favor, the prophet Jeremiah lifts up his voice saying that God himself will intervene in history, to punish the monarchs and to shepherd personally the people (vv. 2-3).  The Lord will place before the people shepherds that will look after them with responsibility and care (v. 4).  The king is named “Zedekiah,” a name that was imposed upon him by the Babylonians and that in Hebrew means, “Lord-my-integrity.”  For Jeremiah, Zedekiah is the symbol of human insufficiency, of the irresponsibility of the
pastors and of the limits of the monarchy.  For this reason, he announced the arrival of a “legitimate branch” of David, that is to say, an authentic king-pastor, “who will reign and be wise, practicing honesty and integrity in the land” and in whose days “Judah will be saved and Israel dwell in confidence” (vv. 5-6).    His name, in clear opposition to the king Zedekiah, will be “Lord-our-integrity” (v. 6).
        The oracle is Messianic, that is to say, expresses the dream of believers and of prophets in Israel about a person that, in the name of God, would be able to change radically the hearts and structures of this world.  The expression “Lord-our-integrity,” more than a name, designates the plan that God will realize through this messianic king, authentic descendent of David: a plan of justice.  Justice, in the biblical meaning, means the salvation that God realizes in history, restoring to man and woman the possibility of turning to enter a covenant with him.  Man and woman, when they sin, become unjust; God, in his infinite mercy, justifies man and woman through pardon, making them capable
again of living in relationship with him.  To the justice-salvation of God corresponds the response of man and woman, that with their fidelity to the Law maintain themselves justified before God.  Therefore, the Messianic plan of justice implies, on one hand, the saving, gratuitous and merciful action of God; and on the other hand, the human response of fidelity to the commandments, practicing justice with the likes.  Jeremiah announces that the Lord will reunite again his people and take care of them, through an ideal king of justice
and through shepherds that exercising right and justice, will return to the people the possession of the land and the happiness of dwelling there.

        The second reading (Eph 2,13-18) is a hymn that celebrates the work of Christ in human  history, he that has realized it in favor of humanity, the divine plan of liberty and of peace for all.  Peace, the biblical shalom, is the summation of all goods to which a man or woman aspire, is the fullness of Messianic salvation.  For this reason, the text affirms with strength that “Christ is our peace” (v. 14).  At the same time, reference is made to one of the most significant expressions of this peace:  the destruction of the divisions and barriers among men and women.  Christ Jesus has made of Jews and Gentiles “one [people] and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart.”  He has abolished the wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, that prohibited the non-Jews entering the sacred space reserved to the chosen of Israel; and has abolished also the wall of the Law, that interpreted by the masters in a legalistic form, had turned into an obstacle for the living experience of faith and an obstacle for recognizing the dignity of the human person (vv. 14-15).  Christ Jesus has
given freely the messianic peace to all without distinction, invalidating all separations and segregations in the midst of humanity and offering all men and women the experience of the fullness of communion with the Father:  “Later he came to bring the good news of peace, peace to you who were far away and peace to those who where near at hand.  Through him, both of us have in the one Spirit our way to come to the Father” (v. 18).

        The gospel (Mk 6,30-34) presents us with two parts of one scene, in which Jesus acts with mercy and the solicitude of a shepherd.  In the first part, he presents himself as “shepherd of his disciples” (vv. 30-32); in the second, as “shepherd of a suffering people” (vv. 33-34).
        Jesus is “the shepherd of his disciples” (vv. 30-32).  After the mission, “the apostles rejoined Jesus” (v. 30), as sheep around the shepherd.  They tell him everything they have “done” and that which they have “taught” (v. 30).  There is much to tell and to share, but the time is brief and the people that follow them are always many in number (v. 31b:  for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat”).  The Jesus himself decides:  “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while” (v. 31a).  He had taken the initiative to send them out on mission, now he goes ahead of them to invite them to rest.  He wants to listen to them alone, to be with them, to share with them that he has chosen “so that they may be with him” (Mk 3,14).  He convokes them before and after the mission.  First he sent them to nearby villages; now, he goes off with them, “in the boat,” “to an isolated place” (v. 32).  He brings them together not so that they may render to him an account of that which was realized, but to strengthen the bonds of friendship and of affection.  Jesus is, for the disciples, Master and Shepherd.  He educates them and sends them out on mission, but also offers to them the support and the welcome that they need, invites them to rest and offers to them the grace of his intimacy.
        Jesus is “shepherd of the suffering people” (vv. 33-34).  The second part of the text relates an unforeseen element, that interrupts the repose of the apostles with Jesus:  “people saw them going, and many could guess where, and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them.  So as he stepped ashore he was a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length” (vv. 33-34).  Jesus sees that tired people, that have followed him from many villages to listen to him and “took pity on them” (Greek:  kai esplanchnistê ep’autous).  Mark uses the rich Greek verb splanchnízomai, which indicates the commotion and mercy that overflow from his innards.  (Splanchna, in Greek, means innards).  This same verb (splanchnízomai) Mark utilizes to describe the sentiment of Jesus before the leper that asks him to heal him (Mk 1,40); Luke, uses it to speak of the mercy of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10,29-37) and of the Father that receives the son that returns home (Lk 15,11-32); and Matthew, to describe the sentiments of the overseer that pardons the debt of the servant (Mt 18,23-35).  Before a disoriented humanity (“they were like sheep without a shepherd”), tired and suffering, Jesus experiences a profound mercy that moves him inwardly.  Mark does not tell us anything aboutthe exterior expression that could make visible the mercy of Jesus, but describes just the heart of the shepherd before a pained and oppressed man or woman.  The compassion of Jesus-Shepherd is the incarnation of the mercy and of the love of God for his people.  An infinite compassion, immeasurable.
        It is important to note in the text the description of the experience of Jesus before the people:  first he sees them, then he experiences compassion in his interior and, finally, acts.  A process that can be resumed in three verbs:  to see the reality, to feel compassion for others and to act on their behalf.  The last moment of the process is action:  “he set himself to teach them at some length.”  Jesus is the Shepherd of his people above all because he offers them the nourishment of his world and nourishes them with the gospel of hope. The Church can receive three lessons from today’s biblical readings:  (1)  the work of Jesus, that the Christian community has to continue, is a work of justice, that is to say, of integral, spiritual, social and physical salvation of man and woman; (2) the mission of the Church in the world has to be a mission of peace, of unity and of love, overcoming always the temptation of forgetting those on the outside, of closing herself off before new catches or being intolerant before those on the outside; (3) the Church, like Jesus, has to offer man and women a place of repose and of peace, through the experience of profound prayer and of living liturgy; at the same time that, in the image of Christ, has to know how to act with mercy and with compassion before all human misery.