Home » Gospel Encouragement – 18th July 2021 – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Encouragement – 18th July 2021 – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers,

I don’t know about you, but I love the old English tradition of sheep dog competitions.  I presume that most countries across the world that breed sheep use dogs to herd them, but I’m not sure that many countries have made it into such an art form.  If you don’t know what I mean look up sheep dog trials on YouTube.  While I love the tradition, though, I’m not so sure that I’d love to attend one as I imagine that I’d get a bit bored after a while.

Of course, you can all see why these competitions came into my head today.  Sheep and shepherds come out as the main theme of our readings, and even in the readings there’s a kind of contest.  Jeremiah is telling Israel that they’ve had bad shepherds that have allowed them to get lost, but also prophesying that God will raise up good shepherds in the future, whilst Jesus emerges in the Gospel as the best of shepherds, coming to teach them because, as he says in today’s passage, “they were like sheep without a shepherd”.  There’s a contest, then, between being lost and being found; the people having lost God and then ‘God made man’ finding them.

Jeremiah is writing at the time of the exile.  You may remember from last week’s readings that the prophet Amos, another shepherd, had been telling the northern kingdom of Israel – Israel had divided into two kingdoms after King Solomon’s reign – that things were looking bad for them because they had chosen to reject God.  That northern kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrians and all the people taken into exile and, to all intents and purposes, were lost for all time.   Jeremiah is prophesying 150 years later, and saying that the southern kingdom, Judah, has got itself into a similar mess, because bad priests and kings had let these people lose sight of God as well, and it too will be taken into exile.  The difference between Judah and Israel, though, is that Judah will return to their country after seventy years or so.  Those seventy years will be a time when they, once again, recognise their need of God; at least some of them will.

In the time of the Gospels, Judah has got itself into a similar mess, and Jesus comes to be the perfect shepherd for them, and for the whole world, to show them the way out of that mess: to believe in him, to follow him, to allow him to teach them and us.  Without him we are sheep without a shepherd: lost!  And you see in the Gospel how the people flock to him because he provides security and hope in what can be a challenging world.  And that hope is his message of love; his love for us and the power that love has to change lives when we share it with each other.

The early church, across the known world of the time, was recognised as being different to the prevailing culture because of the love that was given freely by its members, and that reality has continued for thousands of years, down to our own time.  We take it for granted, but our own NHS and our system of education is founded on the work of the Church in providing health care and education for the poorest when such things weren’t available: that’s why the traditional title of a female ward manager was ‘sister’.  Religious sisters ministered in the name of the Church.

The good shepherd then, comes to teach us to love, and in that love is our salvation.  To follow him is to love him and each other as he loves us, even to laying down our lives for our sisters and brothers as he did on the Cross.  We have the real hope that when we do lay down our lives for others that there is resurrection beyond, the resurrection of an uplifted spirit in this life and resurrection into eternal life beyond.  And the pages of the Bible teach us about God’s love day in and day out, and the Eucharist brings that love to live in us, as Jesus Body and Blood – his life literally laid down for us – feeds us with his love day, by day, week by week, year by year.  As we feast on his love today, let’s ask the Good Shepherd to guide us as to how to love like him more and more, how to lay down our lives in love for others more and more, and give thanks that when we do, we become more and more like him.  We are no longer sheep without a shepherd, but a unified flock with the best shepherd ever!!!

The Lord is our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want!

With every blessing,

Simon