The Shepherd’s Compassion
22 July 2018 – Lectionary 16, Proper 11, Time after Pentecost
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Anticipating the very full treatment the Great Multiplication (vv 35–44) and Jesus’ walking on water (vv 45–52) will receive during the next five weeks of lectionary readings from John 6, this week’s Gospel lection skips over the telling of these two stories in Mark 6. We do, however, set the stage by hearing what happened immediately before (vv 30–34), and we receive a brief report about how people responded to Jesus’ power to heal. . . .
As the apostles return from their mission (6:6b–13), Jesus offers to take them to a deserted place for a rest. However, there is one situation from which Jesus, in his compassion, will not withdraw: when he is confronted with people who are “like sheep without a shepherd.” In contrast to the leaders who fail to provide their people with leadership, guidance, and sustenance (cf. Jeremiah 23:1–2), Jesus is the Good Shepherd who never abandons his sheep. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
Following a chapter of oracles against the rulers of Israel, who have failed to execute justice, Jeremiah employs shepherd imagery to foretell the fate that awaits these rulers. . . . God, through Jeremiah, promises to drive out the “evil” shepherds, gather the scattered sheep and “raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them” (v 4). Jesus’ encounter of such a group of scattered people (Mark 6:34), and his response to them, exemplifies the kind of shepherd God has promised to raise up. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
If we understand this letter as addressed to several different churches, we can see the very Pauline message of “unity in Christ made manifest through a diversity of gifts” (cf. 1 Corinthians 12–14) expressed through this letter. In this week’s lection, the author begins by emphasizing two very distinct and mutually exclusive groups: the “uncircumcision” (Gentiles) and the “circumcision” (Jews). Indeed, before Christ, there was “no hope” that the divided creation of Jews and Gentiles could ever be reconciled. But, in and through Christ, “you who were once far off have been brought near,” and “he has made both groups into one.”
As a circular letter to a number of different churches, the invitation is for each individual faith community to grow beyond thinking of itself as separate from each another, and to realize that each local church is part of one universal act of salvation in Christ Jesus. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (v 19). Each church is not an individual household of God; there is one universal household in which God dwells, and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone of this universal household (v 20). And, in and through Christ Jesus, each local church is “built together spiritually into [one] dwelling place for God” (v 22). –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
Steven H. Fazenbaker is director of the Wesley Foundation at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 79-87.