Green Fields and Restful Waters

07-18-2021Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

In today's gospel, the writer Mark was trying to stir the deep memories of the Jews with his use of the image of a Shepherd. In the very long history of the Jews, they had always tended sheep. In fact, we can recall the story of long before the Jews had been Israel, when Abraham and his wife Sarah left their homeland for the Promised Land and took their many sheep along with them. You may recall that at one time even Moses tended the sheep of his father-in-law. The great King of Israel, David himself, was a shepherd. In fact, David was called from the fields when he was tending sheep to be anointed by Samuel to be King of Israel. Sheep and shepherds are in the memory DNA of the Jews at the time Mark is composing his gospel.

Our Old Testament writer has the prophet Jeremiah use this shepherd image to describe the leadership in the divided kingdom. The prophet Jeremiah lived in Israel when it was divided by civil war. The country had split into two with the large kingdom of Israel to the north and the small kingdom of Judah to the south. Jeremiah proclaimed that the kings were just like the evil or inept shepherds and these kings had misled and shattered the nation. Jeremiah, however, wrote of this when the Jews were in exile in Babylon. He was analyzing the reasons why Israel fell, but was also looking to a time when the Lord God will restore Israel again. He even said that a Messiah-like person will call Israel back to its true self as God's chosen covenanted people. He told them that this promised one is a true shepherd who gathers, protects, and nurtures his flock.

We learn in the gospel of today that the apostles are tired and worn down, having ended their first successful missionary journey. They were all seeking a quiet and restful place, a calming place of retreat; although, in the end, they really did not get to enjoy it. They even tried two more times to find a place of quiet and rest, yet the crowds pursued them. The people were desperately seeking a leader who made sense to them and also someone who actually fed the deep hunger of their souls. Because they were so desperate to find and follow Jesus, they did not even bring enough food for them to eat that day as they chased after Him. When they found Him, he did not disappoint them. He comforted their hurt hearts and he stirred their spirits. He did these things by teaching them "many things".

In the 1970's, the American people often sought a guru who could answer all their questions of life. For those who are older, we remember this phase of American culture, for others it is recorded sociological history! Every generation seeks a solution to the world's problems and their own personal dilemmas; for some it is a person, for some it is a substance, for some it is an ideology, and for some it is "stuff". Jesus was none of these, from guru to anything else; Jesus transcended our limited solutions and ideas. Instead, He spoke with authority and touched hearts and inner beings. Saint Paul in our second reading eloquently expressed that Jesus created a New Covenant for all of us. When we seek to know about our lives and its meaning and purpose, we should look to Jesus who will direct us to nourishing insight and understanding, just as a shepherd leads his flock to green fields and restful waters.