World and International leaders are all in the news at the moment. It appears that this is the season of the year for “summits” and “conferences” and “meetings.” The heat and sun of the summer lends itself to all these leaders and the hundreds in their entourages to go flying about meeting in beautiful and exotic places. When all this is said and done, we want to know that our leaders have represented us and our values well and will come home to inspire us with new knowledge and decisions. We expect our leaders to inspire us by their actions and words not only when they are at a distance in foreign lands, but also up close and personal when they are here among us. We believe our leaders’ actions and words are very powerful. What they say and do really matters in our lives and leads us to a better way of life.
When Mark in his Gospel used the image of the shepherd, he was tapping into Israel’s long memory and also to the unconscious idea of the shepherd as a leader. Someone was always tending sheep in Jewish scriptures. Remember Abraham and Sarah and their family and flocks. Recall that Moses fled the city to hide and tend the flocks of his father-in-law. It is easy to forget that the great royal king David was called from the pasture where he was a shepherd and was anointed by Samuel to lead the people of Israel.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah found in today’s passage tell us that the north and south kingdoms are in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah speaks of a leader who will be like a Messiah who will call Israel back to its true self as God’s covenanted people. This promised one is a leader who is like shepherd who gathers, protects, and nurtures his flock.
In the story of today’s Gospel, the apostles are weary and worn out, having come off the road after their first successful missionary journey. Even though both Jesus and his apostles seek to find a quiet place to rest and recover, they are not able to enjoy it for long. Indeed, twice they try to get away and cannot. Crowds unceasingly seek out Jesus and his apostles. They want and seek a leader who speaks sense, someone who feeds the deep hunger and pain of their souls. So eager are they to find Jesus that they fail even to take food provisions for the journey.
This Gospel passage is quite strong in its power; you cannot stop any person whose time has come, nor can you stop a people who are vulnerable and hungry for a leader either. This new shepherd of Israel does not disappoint. As a leader Jesus addresses their spiritual hunger. He feeds their languishing, bewildered, disheartened spirits by teaching them “many things.” As a leader he inspires them to a better way of life.
Jesus is not some magical or mystical phantom who stands beyond or above these people. He is not the philosopher who knows more than they do. He does not toy with the crowd. The heart of Jesus goes out to them, for he holds them dear to his heart. From all of our knowledge from the Gospel stories, we know that Jesus did not just talk his talk, instead He spoke “with authority” because he spoke with passion and acted with compassion. Bear in mind that Saint Paul reminds us in the second reading that Jesus once and for all and forever gathered a people from afar. In his unceasing compassion a new people is created and nourished and protected. A new covenant - a relationship between shepherd and sheep - is forged and sealed. Leadership should always bring about good.
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