Scattering or Uniting the Sheep? – Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Our scripture readings today remind us of the need for a shepherd, one to guide us and lead us in the right path. Jesus offers us the route that could be followed by those who follow him: “As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” It was his motivation two thousand years ago.

It’s the path of compassion and uniting the flock. We have the beautiful Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The psalm goes on to speak of how he restores my soul and leads me in the right paths, even though I walk through the darkest valley. We all know that longing for a guiding hand to lead us through the darkness.

We need shepherds. Are there any? The sad fact is that many of the people who are fostering a divided world in need of a shepherd are, actually, the very shepherds that we have. That is even true in the Catholic Church. Oh! Most shepherds are good and decent. But some are helping to scatter the sheep, rather than bring them together.

I am composing this at a time when the country is reeling from the news of unmarked graves at former residential schools. And, just yesterday, I read a news item about a Catholic pastor in Mississauga, ON using his so-called homily to utter strange and alienating statements about residential schools (and without stopping there, continued to offer his personal views about the Pride flag).

I hope that he doesn’t wonder why his parish church was spray-painted with graffiti. One thinks that it might be wise for that pastor to go back to homiletics 101.

Krystyna Higgins says it well in the commentary for today in the Living with Christ missalette. She refers to Jeremiah’s line, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! … [It] is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away.”

Amen! It’s not the fear of COVID alone that is causing a decline in churchgoers these days. Many are clearly voting with their feet and their credit cards.

Higgins says,

“The harsh words that begin today’s first reading [from Jeremiah] are, unfortunately, as relevant for our modern world as when they were first written. The ‘shepherds’ with responsibility for many public institutions and governments today so often seem motivated by greed and hunger for power rather than concern for the common good. Saddest of all is the global scourge of abuse within the churches, which has left many people disheartened, disillusioned and unable to trust.”

Higgins does point to the hope in today’s scripture readings: the “righteous branch” in the house of David, the one who will never abandon us. Jesus constantly offers us peace. He is the reconciler, the healer of all ills.

Higgins stresses that Jesus empowers us to take steps towards mending a broken and suffering world. Jeremiah says that this Branch “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Jesus is our hope. He is our strength. Jesus reminds his followers in today’s Gospel, to go away to a deserted place, “all by yourselves and rest a while.” He is inviting us to prayer and reflection. Let’s take time this week to rest and pray with our divided nation and world.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 06:42h, 18 July Reply

    Jesus draws us together, the Deceiver divides. These days I feel like in a desert storm sometimes. Your last paragraph reminding us of Jesus’ call to rest for a while and to pray is central and perennial. Thank you.

  • Bernice Dookhan-Khan
    Posted at 08:56h, 18 July Reply

    Amen! Thanks for a beautiful reflection with much food for thought, Fr. Shano.
    Jesus is indeed our hope and our strength.

    I am very blessed to journey daily, in silence and solitude with my Lord, all by myself in the deserted place which God has provided for me.

    As I continue my pilgrimage with my Lord, I pray that God ignites the entire world with His perfect love and extinguish the fire of hatred everywhere on earth. God’s will be done in all things.

    God bless.

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 09:36h, 18 July Reply

    Thank you for your insightful sharing on the gospel reading. An exodus of humility still needs to filter through the many self righteous hierarchical structures of society.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 20:29h, 18 July Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 21:44h, 18 July Reply

    As always, Fr. Philip, putting your finger clearly on the problem, through the light of the Gospel! Thank you!

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