Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year “B”) - July 22, 2012
UNDERSTANDING CHRIST'S SAVING DEED
[Jeremiah 23.1-6; [Psalm 23]; Ephesians 2.13-18; Mark 6.30-34]
Many Old Testament passages foretell a dramatic intervention by God into human history to set right conditions that are not fitting for God's creatures. Thus, Jeremiah declared God would dismiss selfish shepherds who had proven themselves unworthy of his flock. Instead, God would introduce another, selfless type of pastor.
In place of the dismissed shepherds, God declared, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock ... I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer ... nor shall any be missing”.
The person to implement this would be a scion of King David's line, a king who would rule wisely. He would be known as the embodiment of God's righteousness (“the Lord is our righteousness”), suggesting that God's holiness would be communicated through this mysterious figure to God's people.
Today's gospel shows the apostles returning from their ministry of teaching and healing. The proclamation they had been charged with making signalled that the drawing near of God's Kingdom was taking place—in seminal form—not only in Jesus' ministry, but also through their participation in his ministry.
After their mission, Jesus summoned His disciples to “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”. This shows the profound wisdom of Jesus, wanting his associates to have time to debrief, to reflect on what they had experienced and to give themselves to relaxation and prayer. But on this occasion this was not to be.
The crowd caught sight of Jesus and his disciples' movement, understood where they were heading and flocked to their company. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus showed them compassion “because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. To meet their needs “he began to teach them many things”.
What Jesus taught of God's Kingdom—what was then beginning to hold sway over human lives—he would later enact in the miracle of the loaves. John's version of this wonder, with its subsequent teaching by Jesus that he is the true Bread of Life, becomes the gospel focus of the next five Sundays.
What began in Jesus' preaching, teaching and miracles took place definitively in the paschal mystery—the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul's epistles and other later New Testament writings seize on examples from aspects of human society and life to help Christians understand Christ's saving deed.
From the courtroom, Paul chose the image of acquittal, a declaration of innocence or righteousness, to explain what happens within the Christian when he or she believes that God was at work in Jesus' death and resurrection (“[Jesus] was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” [Romans 4.25]).
Other words are used to express this reality: “Salvation” or deliverance from harm such as illness, storms at sea, various travails (the gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” [Romans 1.16]).
The term “redemption” likens the Christ-act to the “buying back” of slaves, Christ's passion being the ransom to set sinners free from bondage to sin (Christ Jesus is “our redemption” [1 Corinthians 1.30).
Jesus' death and resurrection effect a “transformation” in the disciple (2 Corinthians 3.18; Philippians 3.21), establishing the baptized—whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female—as a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17; cf. Galatians 3.28).
God's saving dynamic through Jesus brought in its wake “freedom” (“for freedom Christ has set us free” [Galatians 5.1), “sanctification” (“to holiness God has called us” [1 Thessalonians 4.7) and, one day, issues in the Christian's “glorification” (“those whom [God] justified, he also glorified” [Romans 8.30]).
With the expression “reconciliation” the teaching of Ephesians stresses a powerful concept from the social or political sphere. The various Greek words used to describe God's reconciling activity in Christ crucified and risen tell of a “change in relationships”: from anger, hostility and alienation to love, friendship and intimacy (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.19).
Once, Gentiles and Jews had been separated from each other by “a dividing wall”. Christ's death broke it down so that he “might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the Cross”. Through his “atoning” act, Christ became “our peace”, creating in himself “atonement”, “one new humanity”. God's power working in the risen Christ has gathered together the scattered flock of Jeremiah's day.
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