SUNDAY’S READINGS | July 18, 2021
The prophet Jeremiah calls the people of God a flock without a good shepherd, and Jesus uses the same metaphor in the Gospel. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” Jeremiah says. “It is you who have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them” (Jer. 23:1-2).
Jesus, traveling by boat with his disciples, lands on the shore. A crowd is waiting. “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). He had compassion on them because he saw them scattered; he saw them “divided and enslaved by sin” (BCP, p. 254). He saw the ruin of human beings alienated from God and set against each other.
Though addressed to a Gentile audience, the Epistle to the Ephesians well describes humanity as a whole without Christ. “Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12-22). There is, of course, a deep and true sense in which God is in the world always and everywhere, sustaining all things in being. However, our awareness of this presence is often so dulled that we live as if “without God in the world.” We are scattered, enslaved, without hope, and without God. Jesus Christ finds a fallen and fractured humanity to which he extends his all-embracing compassion.
The compassion of Jesus, no doubt, includes deep feelings, but it also includes a response to physical and spiritual needs. “Jesus ordered the disciples to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them. And all ate and were filled” (Mark 6:39-42).
And, to assure that this feeding of the many would continue to the end of time, on the night before he suffered, “He took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘This is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’” (Mark 14:22-24).
Remember, you were at one time without Christ. You were divided and enslaved by sin. Now, Christ has come to you in the depth of his compassion, offering his body and pouring out his blood for you, and feeding you with new and everlasting life. In the dying body of Jesus, we see the death of something in us, something which must die for the new being to emerge. The hostility that divides human beings and divides the human heart is put to death on the cross (Eph. 2:16). The old humanity is dead! A new being united in Christ emerges from the cross and grave.
Thus, amid our differences and diversity, we are in Christ citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, built up and joined together as a holy temple. Divine compassion has gathered us, fed us, and made us a “dwelling place for God.”
In the infinite compassion of Christ, we are one body, his body. United in his mercy and love, we refuse to hate anything God has made (Collect for Ash Wednesday).
Look It Up: Psalm 23
Think About It: Green grass, the warm sun, soul food, and a new being.