July 18, 2021 at Saint Peter the Apostle Churche in Naples, FL
Jeremiah 23, 1-6 + Psalm 23 + Ephesians 2, 13-18 + Mark 6, 30-34
The disciples of Jesus are called apostles in the verses of today’s Gospel. It is the first and only time that this word appears in Mark’s Gospel. Knowing that fact ought to get our attention. Even though the word “disciple” and “apostle” are often used interchangeably, the words are different. The Greek word for “apostle” in English means one who is sent. That implies that there is some kind of commissioning. So, an apostle is someone authorized for a task with the authority of the sender. In a few minutes we are going to stand up and proclaim our belief in an apostolic church; and after all, what is an apostolic church except a church of apostles. We are not going to say, “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and discipleship Church.” Our profession of faith expresses more than what we believe. It is ultimately a proclamation about what we believe we are.
At some point in the life of everyone who listens to the Word of God a question must be asked: “What’s the point?” What is the point of picking up Word of God day after day to read about Jesus Christ? There must come a time when we begin to wonder why are we doing this? What good comes from people who just study and learn about Jesus? There is no point in all that study and learning if we don’t begin to do something with what we’ve learned. There must come a time when every single one of us moves from being a disciple to becoming someone authorized for a task with the authority of the sender.
By reason of our Baptism, we are an apostolic people sent with a task having all the authority of the sender. We study and learn from the teacher, but sooner or later what we learn prepares us to do something because of who we are as apostles. So, look at Jesus in this Gospel today not to admire him, and not like loyal fans who swoon at his every word. We look at Jesus in this Gospel because we, as an apostolic church have been given the authority of the one who sends us. What we see and hear in the Gospel for today is a quality essential for an apostolic people. Compassion is what Jesus has, and compassion is what must have. This puny translation we have says that Jesus was moved with “Pity.” The Greek word that Mark used to describe how Jesus felt was way more than “pity.” It was a profound inner emotion, deep, and heartfelt. He did not just feel sorry for those people, he was deeply disturbed, and he felt their helplessness and sensed their anxious search for something or someone who would offer them consistent and strong leadership. He uses the image of a shepherd for a people who understand that a shepherd protects and provides.
So many people are searching today, hungering for hope, and looking for direction. Some may be here drawn with the hope that in the church there will be some light in the darkness. We cannot let them down and still be apostles. They may be parents who are sick with grief over a troubled child, someone suddenly jobless and overlooked because of their age, someone feeling the surge of life leaving their aging bodies, people angry or confused because the institutional church seems so broken. There are people looking for answers and for meaning. They are like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus looks to us to shepherd them. We have to stop looking at Jesus with sentimental images of him, and begin to embrace the truth that if he is a shepherd so are we. The image is not just about him. It must describe us.
Real and true shepherds do not pit one segment of the community or one theological perspective against another. Real and true shepherds do no scatter the sheep or drive anyone lost away. They speak the word that gathers. They feel the feelings and fears of the sheep. They do not have or give easy answers, but they do not run from what is unknown and they know where to find the truth. It seems to me that we are anointed like the psalmist, anointed to be troubadours who open the hearts and minds and eyes of others to see God’s gracious plenty and believe that we have nothing to fear from one another.