16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): The Word that Shepherds
(Adults, you could begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child. Alternatively, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
Last week, we listened as Jesus calls twelve of his friends to be apostles--people who are sent out. Jesus sends them out to build the Kingdom of God with their words and with their actions. In the Gospel for this Sunday, the apostles return to Jesus, telling him about their adventures.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
They must have so much to tell Jesus! They have acted and spoken as Jesus does, just as they were sent out to do. How much they have seen! How much they have done! They must be exhilarated--thrilled and excited to be part of the work of building the Kingdom of God--but they also must be exhausted. They have walked a long way, they have said and done so much.
Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
The apostles are tired and and they are hungry. Jesus knows that they need to recharge. More than anything else, they need time alone with him.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
It does not seem like the apostles are going to get their alone time with Jesus quite yet. So many people want to be with Jesus. They are attracted to him. He speaks like no one else. He acts like no one else. The apostles know this. They have seen and heard these things, too.
As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd
When Jesus sees the great crowd of people, he thinks they are like sheep without a shepherd. Why does he think this? How are they like sheep without a shepherd? Why do sheep need a shepherd?
Without knowing very much about sheep, we can guess what they need, and why they cannot get everything they need on their own. We can also listen to Psalm 23--a prayer found in the Bible. This psalm prays about what a sheep needs, and what a sheep receives from the shepherd. At Mass this Sunday, we will sing these words:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Who is the shepherd for this sheep? The LORD--the name given only to God. We hear that the LORD gives the sheep rest where there is plenty of food and water. The shepherd also restores the soul of the sheep. "Restores" means "makes whole again." We do not know why they soul of the sheep needs restoring--maybe it has known sorrow, maybe it has been hurt, maybe it is broken from sin--all we know is that the LORD, the shepherd, makes it whole again. Twice we hear that the shepherd leads the sheep. That is what the sheep need most: a shepherd to lead them to what they need.
When Jesus see the crowd of people like sheep without a shepherd, what does he do?
he began to teach them many things.
Why, when the people need a shepherd, does Jesus begin to teach them? This seems a little odd, does it not? Why does he not shepherd them? He should make them rest. He should lead them to where there is plenty of food and water. He should restore their souls. Why does he begin to teach?
Is it possible that his teaching leads them to what they need? Could Jesus be shepherding them with his words? His teaching is, after all, the Word of God.
If this is true--if Jesus is shepherding them with the Word--we have to consider how the Word of God can give rest, can feed, can make whole. We have to consider how the Word of God leads.
How does the Word of God give rest? Some people read the Word of God each night before they go to sleep. We wonder if that helps them to relax, to let go of worries and anxiety, to feel safe.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
How does the Word of God feed? Food gives us the nutrients we need for life. It gives us the energy to grow, to work, to build. Does the Word of God do this? When we listen, do we get what we need for life in God? Through the Word of God we know we are called to the table of the Last Supper, to the table of the Eucharist. The Word leads us to where we are fed with the food of abundant life. We wonder, though, if listening to the Word itself can give us the energy we need to grow, to work, to build the Kingdom.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
How does the Word of God make whole? When we know sorrow, can the Word of God give joy? When we have been hurt, can the Word of God stop the pain? When we have sinned, can the Word of God lead us to repentance, to forgiveness, to mercy? We know that this is true.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
It is an interesting thought to wonder about--that the Word of God can shepherd us. Perhaps we could we pray, in our time alone with Jesus,