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

Imagine, playfully, if you will, a synagogue located between Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth and Jerusalem about three miles away. It’s the Synagogue of the Bad Shepherd, located on North Abraham Avenue at the corner of Plowshare Street. It’s located in a fine neighborhood, the people like it, and it has a magnificent building. But Jeremiah knows something about it, and, following Balaam’s Rule[1], Jeremiah prophesies about it in today’s first lesson: “thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you.”[2]

What Jeremiah knows about the synagogue that we have imagined is that it is part of a corrupt system. The Lord finds fault with the system and intends to correct it. And correct it the Lord does. The Lord sends his Son who gathers about him a group of people to listen to his sermons about the kingdom of God. And the Son sends them out, two-by-two, to preach the kingdom of God, to preach repentance, and to cure the sick. About fifteen verses before the beginning of today’s Gospel, we may read: “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”[3]

The disciples succeed phenomenally. And Jesus keeps his eye on the main thing. The Gospel today tells us that Jesus has compassion for the people who flock to him “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”[4]

But more is going on in the Lord’s correction than properly looking after the people. Saint Paul in the Epistle hits the nail on the head when he writes: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”[5] The sheep once scattered by bad shepherds are gathered together by the Good Shepherd. Also, the Good Shepherd “has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross.”[6]

The Gentiles lacked Israel’s messianic expectation, lacked the covenants God made with Israel, lacked hope of salvation and knowledge of the true God. But through Christ all these religious barriers between Jew and Gentile have been transcended, so that in Christ there may be one Good Shepherd.

At this time of year, the Old Testament Lesson and the Gospel strike comparable notes, but today their notes contrast and show us how much God has done for us and how many barriers Christ has overcome. “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 for ever.”[7]

[1] Numbers 23:12.

[2] Jeremiah 23:2.

[3] Saint Mark 6:12-13.

[4] Saint Mark 6:34.

[5] Ephesians 2:13.

[6] Ephesians 2:15-16.

[7] Psalm 23:6.