The 8th Sunday after Pentecost — Proper 11B (July 22, 2012)

Lessons:Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 23 Ephesians 2:11-22 St. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Semicontinuous Series: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a Psalm 89:20-37

Prayer of the Day: O God, powerful and compassionate, you shepherd your people, faithfully feeding and protecting us. Heal each of us, and make us a whole people, that we may embody the justice and peace of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.  

St. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Like Sheep without a Shepherd

This Sunday is known to some as Good Shepherd Sunday. The first lesson describes the leaders of ancient Israel as unfaithful shepherds, who have no care for their charges. They will be punished, and new (read: more faithful) shepherds will be placed in charge of the sheep. The Psalm is the familiar 23rd — a moving and poetic description of God’s presence among the faithful, even through the darkest valleys of pain and difficulty. Here, God is described as the shepherd who ensures that the sheep will never be in want. Then, finally, in the Gospel lesson Jesus has compassion on the crowd following him because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And so he becomes their good shepherd, teaching them many things, and giving them guidance through life.

I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of the image of God’s people as sheep. In embracing this image, we compare ourselves to sheep — arguably not the smartest of God’s created animals! Unintelligent, hapless, helpless… understanding ourselves as God’s sheep is somewhat less than complimentary. In those moments when we feel strong and successful, this image comes to us as a jarring and uncomfortable message. When we’re high on the ridge, surrounded by clear horizons and enjoying the free range, the image of sheep needing a shepherd has little to offer.

Compare that with the power of this image when shared in the depths of a dark valley. Countless stories are told about how the 23rd Psalm has been a word of extraordinary comfort in the hospital room, at the graveside, in the brokenness of human pain. In those moments (moments when we feel like sheep — helpless in the face of the pain that surrounds us), we find a reminder that God is a caring and capable shepherd, guiding us through the worst that life can offer to us, and refusing to allow us to be harmed.

In our Lutheran tradition, we have a name for this: the theology of the cross. This means that God comes to us most clearly and most powerfully in our moments of helplessness. Sure, there are times when we feel as though we’ve got the world by the tail and all is well. Indeed, God is present in those moments, and for that we give thanks. But it is when we come to God in the mist of our brokenness that the promise of the Gospel speaks most clearly and most potently. When the bottom has dropped out, when we can’t see a way through, when despair threatens to overcome our joy… it is then that Christ meets us at the foot of the cross and dies for us. And the power of the resurrection stands as a promise that God can work against all the death in our lives as well.

I still don’t like the image of us as sheep! (Humility is a gift…slow to grow.) But I am thankful for it, because it reminds me of God’s love and God’s grace and God’s power – realities that are even more important to us in those dark times when we can’t imagine a way through on our own. May God, the Good Shepherd, guide and protect you through all times of danger and peril.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why did Jesus describe the crowds as sheep with out a shepherd?
  2. How did his teaching make a difference in those people’s lives?
  3. What must the disciples have learned by witnessing this aspect of his ministry?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I felt the strongest – the most successful?
  2. When have I felt the weakest – the most helpless?
  3. How was God present to me in those moments?