Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

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Fr. George F. Riley, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Jer 23:1-6
Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Eph 2:13-18
Mk 6:30-34

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

That is exactly what happened; and when Jesus and his men stepped out of the boat the very crowd from which they had sought some little peace was there waiting for them.

Any ordinary man would have been intensely annoyed and resentful, but Jesus was moved with pity at the pathos of the crowd. As much as he longed for quiet rest with his closest followers, he saw sheep with no shepherd, and without a word of protest sacrificed himself for us once again.

A sheep without the shepherd cannot find the way. Left to ourselves we get lost in life. At the very start of the Divine Comedy, Dante pens one of the most famous lines in world literature:

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

Being lost is the story of humanity. Scanning perverted maps and following false banners down dangerous paths toward dead ends is the story of humanity. It is Jesus alone who guides us in right paths, who shepherds us in the dark valley of sin, who gathers his lost flock and brings them back to their meadow, to his garden.

In this life we are bound to seek for sustenance. We need the strength which can keep us going. A sheep without the shepherd cannot find its pasture and its food. We gain strength for life only from him who is the living bread.

A sheep with no shepherd is without defense against the dangers which threaten it. It can defend itself neither from thieves nor wild beasts. We cannot make life’s journey alone. No man can defend himself from the temptations which assail him and the evils which attack him. Only in the company of Jesus can we walk safely in the world and keep our hearts pure and our clothes unspotted.

Without Christ we are defenseless, no matter the walls we build and the weapons we take up; with him we are safe, no matter the storms that rage and the crosses we carry.

When the disciples came back from their mission they reported to Jesus all that they had done. The demanding crowds were so insistent that they had no time even to eat; so Jesus told them to come with him to a lonely place on the other side of the lake that they might have peace and rest for a time.

Here we see what might be called the rhythm of the Christian life. It is like the rhythm of sleep and work. We cannot work unless we have our time of rest; and sleep will not come unless we have worked until we are tired.

There are two dangers in life. First, there is the danger of a too constant activity. No man can work without rest; and no man can live the Christian life unless he gives himself times with God. It may well be that the whole trouble in our lives is that we give God no opportunity to speak to us, because we do not know how to be still and to listen; we give God no time to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength.

How can we shoulder life’s burdens if we have no quiet conversation with him who is the Lord of all good life?

Can we do God’s work unless in God’s strength? Can we receive that strength unless we spend time alone with the Lord?

Second, there is the danger of too much withdrawal. Devotion that does not bring forth action is not real devotion. Prayer that does not issue in service is not true prayer. The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternation between meeting with God in the secret place of our heart and serving men and women in the market place.

The preaching and the sacrifice of Christ offer us a path out of the extremes of unceasing occupation and isolating devotion. And so St. Paul speaks to all of us: “you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.” We were lost, and now are found. Even the best things of this world can keep us from Christ, as even the sweetest and most peaceful prayer can keep us from our fellow men and women. But the Holy Spirit strikes the balance that allows us to give our whole heart and soul, mind and strength to Jesus Christ.