Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time : Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34

“Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered. You have let my flock go wandering and have not taken care of them. I will take care of you for your misdeeds.” The words of the Prophet Jeremiah were an uncompromising condemnation of the civil and religious leaders who had presided over the moral disintegration of Jerusalem. Political convenience had supplanted the supremacy of God’s will. Values that had stood at the very heart of Israel’s religious identity had been compromised to promote alliances with powerful neighbours.

Israel’s core values – love of God and love of neighbour – had all but disappeared from the land. Religion had become mere lip service. The ensuing moral vacuum led to the disintegration described by the Prophet Jeremiah. This condemnation, severe though it was, led to renewed hope.

“The remnant of my flock I myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them, and will bring them back to their pastures. I will raise up shepherds to look after them and pasture them. Not one shall be lost.”

These words looked to the coming of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the flock. Equally importantly, they referred to the Apostles, commissioned by the Lord to shepherd a broken and scattered world. They also apply to every baptised Christian called to share Christ’s ministry of healing and reconciliation.

We live at a time when economic pressures could well lead to increasing alienation between rich and poor. Flexible values are creating further divisions and tensions within families and society. In many ways we are facing the society described by Jeremiah long ago: a society that is destroyed and scattered.

Jeremiah condemned the leadership of his own day for remaining silent in the face of moral disintegration. Let us pray that we, both as leaders and as those called in baptism to share the ministry of Christ the Good Shepherd, might bring honesty and integrity to our own generation.

Writing to the Ephesians, St Paul described salvation as a work of reconciliation. In Christ a divided world was brought together. “In Christ Jesus you that used to be so far apart have been brought very close, by the blood of Christ. He is the peace between us, and has made the two into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart.”

The unity that Paul proclaimed was not a superficial and cosy togetherness.

It was Christ’s victory over the sinful prejudice that judges so as to divide. It was victory over intolerance that condemns and the greed that exploits. Let us allow Christ to be the peace that heals divisions in parish and family, in society and between the nations.

Jesus fortified his disciples for this mission. He did so by taking them apart to himself. “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.”

Let us rest in Christ, allowing him to be the peace that brings healing to divided hearts. Then we shall bring his peace to a world that is broken and divided.