Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
“Sheep without a shepherd.” This is the simple theme of today's readings. It is interesting that Jesus’ reaction to the crowd is one of pity – as he sees their great thirst for his teachings. This is, in a sense, a clear fulfilment of the prophecy we hear in the first reading, where God promises a true shepherd who will care for the people of Israel. Shepherding is a particularly suitable image of God's love and care. The dependency of the sheep on their shepherd, their wandering and drifting without someone to guide them, is also a suitable image of the people God loves. Our own age also displays sheep without shepherds ‑ a great wandering crowd, seeking something, but not knowing what they are seeking. It is to this flock that the present day followers of Jesus are sent as shepherds.
Notes for Readers
First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
This is the sort of thing we expect from prophets ‑ denunciation and condemnation. Be careful not to get too excited by it ‑ especially the first word, “Doom!” It is a serious charge that God is levelling against the “shepherds of Israel”, so the tone should be one of seriousness. Note the repetition of the phrase “It is the Lord who speaks!” These words do not come from Jeremiah, but from God. The tone should soften gradually, from hard seriousness at the beginning, to a gentler, more tender tone when God talks about gathering his flock again. Enjoy in particular the simple words, “no fear, no terror for them any more.” Then, when the text moves into shorter lines (indicating a type of poetry), the tone should change again, becoming one of great hope and promise, as God, through the prophet, promises the ideal King to rule over the twin kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:13‑18
Saint Paul is here writing to a community of Christians who had formerly been pagans; the distinction is between them and those who were formerly Jews. The reconciliation that Paul is talking about here is that between these two groups, to create a “New Man”, the Christian. All Christians, whatever they were before, form the single Body of the Church. All of this may merit a brief introduction to this reading ‑ simply giving this context; otherwise it might be too obscure. As you read, take your time and be careful with the various phrases. Paul is speaking very clearly (once you understand the context.) Watch the very first line: it would be very easy to jumble up all the short words that appear: be slow and emphatic: “…you/ that. used to be so far apart from us / have been....”. Also be careful with the phrasing in the sentence beginning “This was to create one single New Man / in himself / out of the two of them // and / by restoring peace through the cross,/ to unite them both...” The last sentence is very awkward (and a good example of bad English!). Practice it out loud until you are sure it makes sense!