16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Gathering the Remnant

The warning of Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, bemoans the "shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture." The "shepherds" that Jeremiah is referring to are Israel's rulers. The nation's rulers, along with the priests and prophets, were supposed to play a role in helping the nation fulfill its vocation as God's people. Yahweh had carefully and lovingly shepherded Israel and Judah. But those whose duty it was to be His instruments were, for the most part, a huge disappointment.

Without good and righteous leadership, the very covenant between God and the people had suffered. These rulers had not, as God wished, protected the frail and powerless. Poor leadership had brought disaster to the nation, for when Jeremiah was writing these words, the Babylonian captivity had already begun. Eventually, the royal line would end and the nation would be taken into exile. Before it was over, Jerusalem and its temple would lie in ruins.

 
When national or religious leadership is defective, the consequences for ordinary people are disastrous. 
 
Today we face a similar dilemma.  The Church today is suffering with the perennial virus of a people in transition:  loss of perspective, polarization and disunity.  We know something about the agony of transition, of being scattered, of discontinuity and the turbulence of crisis.  But crisis has always triggered the best of Christian reflection.  The experience of change, of suffering, of hopes uncertain, can force us to dig deep into our tradition and to discover its power anew.
 
And despite the gloomy conditions that Jeremiah is highlighting among God's people, the reading has a breath of hope – and for this we can be grateful. While the rulers are blamed and threats are leveled against them, there is a promise for a brighter future. God is stepping in to "gather the remnant," to bring them back from exile, "to their meadow." To accomplish this renewal, God promises to appoint shepherds who will fulfill their appointed office faithfully. And He promises even more. A special shepherd will be sent, "...I will raise up a righteous shoot to David." A new time is coming, despite the present distress. God promises not to abandon the people, but to renew them and form a new community with faithful leadership. 
 
God's promise to the people is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus personifies God's compassion for both the disciples - who will shepherd in Jesus' name - and for the people - who need to be gathered and raised up. Jesus is more than a shepherd; he is God's compassion made flesh.
The compassion of Jesus the Shepherd is as intense now as it has always been for the needs of the crowds. He has not forgotten them; he has not forgotten us. He speaks to us all. Each of us has shepherding responsibilities to family, the young, the needy and to society in general. All of the baptized are sent out to speak and act in Jesus' name.
 
What's clear in our first and third readings this week is that a scattered and needy people are not on their own to figure things out or put their house in order by themselves. God, speaking through Jeremiah, makes it clear to a shepherd-less people, "I myself will gather the remnant of the flock....I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them." Jesus is the proof that God is doing just that. Not only is Jesus assuming the shepherding task, but he is training others to carry on when he is gone.
 
It's obvious from the words of Jesus that our role as disciples of the Gospel is, first and foremost, that of reconciling, healing and uniting our people. We are to do that, not by using the power of the Gospel to instill fear and trembling; not to denigrate people who have differing points of view or belief-systems. Nor is it to exclude certain people from ministry, either because of gender or because their expression of faith doesn't live up to what we believe to be the norm.
 
Throughout Mark's gospel those following Jesus are usually called "disciples." But in today's passage they are called "apostles." It is the only time in the gospel that Mark uses that title. It's a new name for them and suggests a new relationship with Jesus. The Shepherd is preparing "apostles," then and now, those to be sent in his name to teach and act as he did – to shepherd His people as He Himself did. The promise we heard in Jeremiah is being fulfilled in Jesus. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock...." That’s what God did. That's what God is doing. God sends a new Shepherd whose heart is moved with compassion for the scattered sheep, just as God's was. 
 
The call to be “apostles” and “shepherds” is not just made to our national or religious leadership. That call is meant for each of us as well and is equally critical.
 
Our church needs healing and renewal. The world at large need healing and growth. Each of us can play a part in this moment's potential for growth, by finding ways to speak to one another in His name for the good of the God’s people.  For only He can heal and renew what has been so wounded in His church. Only He can help us face what divides and destroys our communal bonds. Only He can feed us and heal us so that we can face what assails our society, be witnesses to hope and continue to preach, teach and heal as He did.