RCL Year B Proper 11 Alternate Readings
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Saint Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56

Jeremiah prophesies that “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”[1]

That prophecy comes to pass in today’s Gospel in the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. And it comes to pass mightily. You remember that Jesus has sent out the Twelve as his emissaries, empowering them to preach, to expel demons, and to cure the sick.[2]

In their ministry the people see unmistakable signs of authenticity, and the Twelve are overwhelmed, so much so that Jesus encourages them to get away “to rest for a while.”[3] Two mighty things are developing and taking place at the same time. One is that Jesus empowers the Twelve to be the shepherds that Jeremiah had foretold, and the other is that the people desperately need those shepherds. Jesus himself has compassion for them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”[4] They were like the Gentiles Saint Paul mentions in the Epistle: they had “no hope” and were “without God in the world.”[5]

Two powerful forces are clashing in the Gospel today. The first is the power brought to bear on the second: Jesus’ ministry is strong enough to meet the despair in the people who flock to him and to the Twelve “like sheep without a shepherd.”

We think, sometimes, that our needs, our helplessness, is so great that nothing can overcome it. We could not be farther from the truth. Jesus brings to bear more than we need and more than we think possible. And knowing this in our heads, can we not believe this in our hearts?

Left out of the middle of the Gospel today are two miracles that make that point for the sheep acting as though they have no shepherd. Omitted from the Gospel today are the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water. Jesus meets every need of the five thousand: twelve baskets of food are left over. And by walking on the water, he shows them who he is. But what the people know in their heads doesn’t travel to their hearts. They remain stubborn. Their hearts were hardened, the Gospel says.[6]

We can easily identify with them. We know who God is and what God does. The leap for us is to believe that the Good Shepherd does for us what he does for them. If we open our eyes, we shall see what the Psalmist saw, “Surely [God’s] goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, * and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”[7]

[1] Jeremiah 23:5.

[2] Saint Mark 6:13.

[3] Saint Mark 6:31.

[4] Saint Mark 6:34.

[5] Ephesians 2:12

[6] Saint Mark 6:52.

[7] Psalm 23:6.