Gospel Reflection 18/07/21
Reflection on the Gospel-16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
-Veronica M. Lawson RSM
In every life, there is need for a balanced rhythm of work and re-creation. With so much pain and suffering in our world at the moment, the demands of living a gospel way of life can overwhelm us and cause us to act as though everything depends on us. While we can never really escape the responsibility of being there for those in need, today’s gospel reminds us that there is a time for being out on mission and a time for being with the one who calls and sends us.
The apostles have been busy—preaching, healing and driving out the “demons” as instructed. They now report back to Jesus with an account of their activities and are invited to take time to rest and recuperate. “Come away to a desert place all by yourselves and rest a while” is the invitation that Jesus extends to them. The reference to desert evokes the wilderness of Sinai through which the people of Israel travelled for forty years. For the contemporary reader, it evokes the diversity of life in the desert, on the one hand, and the desertification of so much of the earth’s surface as a result of tree-clearing and mindless destruction of forests on the other.
The “rest” that Jesus proposes is short-lived: the crowds pursue him. His response to these crowds is a physical one: he is “moved with compassion”. The Greek verb for being moved with compassion suggests a “gut” reaction in Jesus: he is physically affected in the depths of his being by the plight of the people who are “like sheep without a shepherd”, and he is ready to do something about it. As the story continues, we find Jesus inviting his disciples to accept responsibility for relieving the hunger of the people in the desert. “You give them something to eat” is his instruction to those who would turn the people away.
Like the Israelites of old, the afflicted Earth community in any age needs good leaders or “shepherds” who will “practice justice and righteousness in the land”, as the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah reminds us. The Hebrew word for justice in this context refers to justice in the law courts. The word for righteousness is about right relationship at every level. Jesus demonstrates for his disciples and for us what justice and righteousness entail.
As the gospel story unfolds, we find that Jesus’ disciples are well-meaning, though slow to learn. They are a bit like us in that. The more we take time to reflect, however, the more likely we are to respond with the compassionate heart of the “shepherd”, and the more likely we are to achieve lasting justice and right relationship in a world of unconscionable disparities and unprecedented displacement of peoples and of other-than-human species. We might advocate at this time for a more equitable distribution of vaccines so that all may know the saving power of God.