19 July 2015
Mark 6:30-34 (Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time)
In today’s Gospel reading, the sight of the crowd summoned the shepherd in the Lord. What did it, we are told, was that they were like a shepherd-less flock of sheep. Nothing, after all, moves the heart of the Lord as much as his desire to gather his scattered flock.
What could the Lord have seen when he laid his eyes on that crowd? He must have seen the men and women in all of humanity’s history, struggling to find joy, peace, and meaning in their lives–not always succeeding, and in the process, even harming one another and themselves in their often-joy-less, turbulent, and meaningless pursuits. It must have been the same sight that prompted the Blessed Trinity to send the Son to save the world–not by fixing it from a distance, but precisely by joining the fray: the mess and chaos–but also, the beauty–of being human.
Aside from the shepherd-less flock of humanity, the Lord may also have caught a glimpse of the scattered flock of sheep within every human person. Don’t we, after all, often feel that there is a scattered flock of sheep within us?
The Oratory of St. Francis Xavier has a beautiful stained glass window that expresses this reality: Christ the Good Shepherd bears a new-found lost sheep on his shoulders, but surrounding him are scattered, shepherd-less sheep, each one facing a different direction. The scattered, shepherd-less sheep represent our layers upon layers of often-conflicting and confusing desires.
This beautiful and profound art work reminds us that in reality, being shepherded is not as simple as we sometimes think. There are times when we feel both the desire to do the will of the Lord, and at the same time, a certain unwillingness or even refusal to follow the his voice. Some of our desires are authentic—they come from and lead us to the Lord. Others are inauthentic: They are mere products of the noise of the world, and if we follow them, they lead us only away from God.
In a sense, therefore, all of us here, each of us, has a flock of sheep within. Some of these sheep inside us belong to the Lord, but also found among them are those that do not belong to Him. Only the Shepherd’s voice can gather this inner scattered flock. Only by recognizing the Lord’s voice and following it can we discover our deepest, longest-lasting desire.
Today, let us pray that the Lord may gather the scattered sheep within us, so that each of us may become one flock that belongs entirely to him. Let us pray that more and more we may learn the art of discernment: so that we may grow to be increasingly familiar with the Shepherd’s voice, learning to distinguish his voice from the world’s noise. Let us beg for the gift of discernment—that we may recognize the Shepherd’s Voice and follow it—always.