(See the readings for the Mass on the 16th Sunday in Ordinary time, July 22, 2012)
Jesus invites his disciples to go to a “deserted place.” He recognizes that they are in need of some quiet time. The time in a “deserted place” is valuable for them.
The term “deserted place” has an association with the “desert.” A desert is a place that has little distractions. There are no market places, no fields to tend, no rivers or lakes in which to fish. The place affords those there to concentrate on things that they value most, central of which is their relationship with God. Going to a deserted place will give them the opportunity to grow in their relationship with God through prayer.
It is not as if prayer cannot happen in other places or that the relationship with God cannot develop in other places. Rather, the desert offers a concentrated experience. And so it is that Jesus and His disciples try to leave the crowds so that they can go to a “deserted place.”
Something happens, however, that prevents them from being alone. The crowds, seeing where they are headed by sea, arrive before them by land. The people want to be with Jesus. They know that He is the answer to all their needs.
Jesus’ response to this situation is telling. He pities the crowd. In other words, He has compassion for the crowds for “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” His heart was moved in compassion for the crowd and “He began to teach them many things.” The context of this event helps to emphasize Jesus’ compassion. He is the “Good Shepherd” who never leaves His flock untended.
The first reading prepares for Jesus’ coming. Here the prophet Jeremiah laments the poor leadership of the people. He says, “You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them.”
Yet after this he says, speaking for the Lord, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow.” The results will be great for their number will “increase and multiply.”
He then speaks of appointing new shepherds who will lead as good shepherds. A new king will arise in Israel who will be the true shepherd of Israel. This king “shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name they will give him: The Lord is our justice.”
St. Paul, reflecting on the effects of Jesus’ passion, speaks in terms of the peace that has been established. The “peace” refers to a wholesome and healed relationship with God and with other people. Four times in this short passage St. Paul uses the word “peace.” The peace established comes through the “blood of Christ” and it “reconciles.”
Through His passion, death and resurrection Jesus has created “in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace.” It is through Him that we have “access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Jesus is our peace. He is the Good Shepherd who, as it is said in the Psalm, gives us repose in verdant pastures, leads us to restful waters and refreshes our souls; He fills us with courage even in the midst of evil and darkness; He provides for our needs abundantly and invites us to dwell in His house.
What can we learn from these readings? First, Jesus is central to our life. He is the source of our peace and joy. Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads us and guides us. Our response is one of docility to His way. Allowing Him to lead us and guide us will result in many blessings, particularly of peace.
Life throws us challenges at times. Sometimes theses are small, sometimes great. Yet the peace that Christ offers will see us through these challenges and lead us to a better place.
Third, while it is important and good to go to a “deserted place,” when we see a need before our eyes, compassion has to take precedence. We can respond by allowing the Spirit, dwelling in us, to move our hearts to do what is right and just, what is good and merciful.
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