After Jesus takes a trip across the lake he finds many people waiting for him and his disciples. Mark tells us, “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34). It is almost certain that the many things were akin to the message he had been teaching all along, “God loves you and cares for you” and “God wants to lead you as a unified people.”
The people are confused about their life situation. Do we believe the rulers of the people? How can we escape the tyrannical rule of the Romans? Where are we going to get enough provisions for our family? Who is this man who feeds multitudes, cures the sick and drives out demons?
These questions are not much different from the questions many people are asking in our own day. Do we believe our ruling officials? How do innocent people escape overbearing rulers and tyrants? How are we going to pay this month’s rent or put sufficient food on the table for our family? Jesus’ heart is moved with pity for us, for we too are like sheep without a shepherd.
A large part of the experience of feeling like sheep without a shepherd is the fact of disunity or separation from others in human life. Even Aristotle, a pagan philosopher, realized that human beings are social animals meant to live in unified groups. We live in families, neighborhoods, cities and states. If there is disorder in any of these social divisions people cannot live truly human lives. Psychologists, for example, speak of dysfunctional families in which some addiction, codependence or uncontrolled emotion disturbs the peace of the family. The lack of peace creates a disunity in the family. To use Jesus’ image, we are like sheep without a shepherd.
The reading from Ephesians gives the solution to all the disunity we suffer. Paul tells us that one major result of the redemption worked through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus was to bring about a single people of God. It no longer matters whether we are Jew or Greek. Jesus prays that we may all be one. As a good shepherd, Jesus has gathered us as one flock.
Both the Gospel passage and Ephesians echo the prophecy of Jeremiah. “I will raise up shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear or be terrified; none shall be missing” (Jer. 23:4). We need not listen to the prophets of doom surrounding us. We find consolation in a flock in which all live in unity and peace. The only true shepherd is the risen Christ who constantly invites us to integrate ourselves more deeply into the flock.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.