As we ease into a beautiful Canadian summer and enjoy nature among the woods, lush green bushes and pastel blue lakes in the longer days, sometimes I cannot help to praise God with this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” in a very earthly way (Ps 23:1).
Maybe not all shepherds are good. In the First Reading, the Lord expresses discontent over the shepherds who “shepherd [His] people”. They “have scattered [His] flock”, “driven them away”, and “have not attended to them” (Jeremiah 23:2). The Lord said that the days are coming for Him to raise up “a righteous branch”, a messianic King from the line of David, who will rule over Judah and Israel and “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5). Through the Messiah, God Himself promises a shepherd for His sheep - spiritual leadership for His people.
Then the tranquil scene of happy sheep attended by a good shepherd is vividly depicted in the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 23). The shepherd “makes [the sheep] lie down in green pastures; he leads [them] beside still waters; he restores [their] soul. He leads them in right paths … even though they walk through the darkest valley, they fear no evil for the shepherd is with them; his rod and his staff … comfort them” and “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow [them] all the days of [their lives] ” (Ps 23 2-4, 6).
In the Gospel reading, we see Jesus, our good shepherd in action. The Apostles have just returned from the mission that Jesus sent them out two by two and are reporting to Him what they have done. It is a busy day and they have “no leisure even to eat” (Mk 6:31). So Jesus takes them to a deserted place all by themselves to “rest a while”, like the Lord in Psalm 23 who shepherds His faithful to green pastures and still waters to ”restore their soul” (Mk 6:32, Ps 23:3). When Jesus and His disciples reach where they are going, a great crowd awaits them. Jesus must be tired and needs a rest, too, yet he begins to teach them because he has compassion for them, they are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34).
Christ the good shepherd offers His sheep peace. St. Paul proclaims in the second reading that “[Christ] is our peace”, a spiritual peace that is rooted in our reconciliation with God our Father. By the blood of His Cross, Christ reconciled men with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God. When we are in the peace of Christ, the inward peace can overflow to establish peace with our neighbours – between friends, families, and even countries, and in workplaces and communities. We are called to spread the peace of Christ by living at peace and sharing the Gospel with others so that they, too, can be reconciled with God and live in the peace of Christ. Such earthly peace, being the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, will no longer be shallow and short lived. It is one of the great blessings that Christ has bestowed the world. (Ref. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament P15, P347, P369; CCC 2305).
Christ the good shepherd is faithfully guiding us to this day. Do I wish to respond to the Shepherd’s call by practising His teaching of living in peace and sharing the gospel with others so that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Ps 23:6)? Living in peace is possible. The choice is up to us.