for Sunday, July 19, 2009
In our first reading we have one of the great prophecies of the Old
Testament. It is a prophecy with many aspects. Jeremiah speaks these words
in the midst of one of the most terrible events to affect the People of
Israel - the Babylonian captivity.
Half of the population had already been dragged off to slavery in
Babylon and it wouldn't be long before the rest followed. Jeremiah in
the clearest possible terms blames this misfortune on the leaders of the
people - the civil and religious authorities.
It is they who have sinned and allowed the flock to be scattered and he
tells them that this neglect will be punished.
But then comes the extraordinary prophecy that God himself will gather
his people together and return them to the pastures of Israel and he will
raise up new shepherds who will truly guard his flock.
But even this is not enough because he goes one step further and
prophecies that he will raise up a true King for Israel, a descendent of
David, who will be the salvation of the people.
We, of course, recognise that this great prophecy was fulfilled in the
person of Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah.
When it comes to the Gospel reading it is as if we see this ancient
prophecy of Jeremiah in all its various aspects come to its fulfilment.
The exile took place well over five hundred years before Christ and
lasted about fifty years; but even though it had happened so long before
it was such a formative event in the history of the People of Israel that
it remained fresh in their minds.
Now while Jeremiah blamed the fact of the captivity on the uselessness
of the leaders of Israel and promised that God would send new and better
shepherds they hadn't made much of an appearance even five hundred years
But in our Gospel reading last week we saw how Jesus sent out his
Apostles to teach and preach in the villages and to cure the people and
cast out evil spirits. At long last it seems, even if at that moment only
in a small way, that this prophecy of Jeremiah was beginning to be
The greatest part of the prophecy was the coming of the Messiah, the
Shepherd King of Israel and in our Gospel reading we see him busy about
his ministry of shepherding and nurturing his people.
The Apostles return full of enthusiasm from their missionary journey
among the villages. But they were quite obviously tired and worn out and
so Jesus invites them to come to a lonely place where they can rest.
But they get no rest because the people realised where they were going
and crowded round them wanting to see and hear more.
This reminds me of one of our missionaries in the Congo, Father Paulus,
who had a great reputation as a builder of Churches. He got help from many
benefactors in Switzerland and with his skill as a builder constructed
many churches and chapels in the villages in the area of our mission.
One problem in Africa is the children; they are really nice and
friendly but they never let you go. A foreigner is a great source of
interest to them and someone special like a big tall priest with a long
beard who was going to build a church becomes the object of very great
The children used to follow him absolutely everywhere, so much so that
he had no privacy at all. Not even to go to the toilet!
In those remote villages it was a case of going out to the corner of a
field and finding some bushes you could hide behind in order to give you
the privacy to do what you have to do. But there was no chance of that
when there was a troop of children following you everywhere.
This exasperated Father Paulus completely and eventually he issued an
edict. "You build me a toilet and I'll build you a church!"
You can imagine how the apostles felt when thinking that they had gone
somewhere out of the way for a rest found themselves surrounded by people.
But, of course, Jesus takes pity on them and sets himself to teach them
because, as it says, they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Maybe the reason the people flocked around was more because they wanted
to see miracles and healings than to hear the Gospel preached to them.
But Jesus knows what they really need, Jesus knows what will truly
satisfy them –the Word of God. Sensation won't hold their interest for
long; but real solid teaching will.
They want to know the answers to the same questions we do. How did I
come into being? What is mans true destiny? How can I find inner peace?
What is the best way to live a human life?
And Jesus has the answers to all these questions and more. God created
us to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy
with him in the next. Our true destiny lies in heaven. We find inner peace
by loving God and our neighbour. The best way to live a human life is to
follow God's laws and to live in close communion with him.
These are the things we are thirsting for. We want to know and
understand the meaning of life; we want to do the things that will help us
to get to heaven. We want to understand how to overcome sin and all those
things which distract us from reaching our true destiny.
Jesus has the answers to our questions; and they all come down to
living a life deeply in harmony with God. And he not only tells us but
shows us the way. He talks the talk but he also walks the walk.
And his walk takes him eventually to Jerusalem and up the hill to
Golgotha where he gave his life for us. And on the Cross he shows us that
the ultimate act of sacrifice is what gives life and salvation to the
And he invites us to walk with him; to walk with him on his journeys
through Palestine where we can listen to his teaching and experience his
healing ministry, and then to walk with him on that last journey to the
Cross to suffer and die and rise to new life with him.
No wonder they wanted to hear more.
Readings of the day:
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: