Today, Jesus sees a crowd following him that moves him to pity. Why?
Gospel (Read Mt 9:16-10:8)
As Jesus was making his way through the villages of Galilee, St. Matthew tells us that “at the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them.” This is a rare description of emotion stirring in Jesus; it should catch our attention. Why did he pity the people he saw in the crowds? What did he see in them that clutched at his heart? He saw that they were “troubled, abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” Was he simply looking at their physical appearances? Surely many were ill, crippled, or possessed by demons. Or was he seeing something in them beyond their physical needs? He saw they were “troubled” and “abandoned.” Their bodies were needy, but so were their souls. He could see they were lost and badly needed the care and a direction of a shepherd devoted to them. Beyond their physical needs, he must have seen fear and desperation in them. Among animals, “sheep without a shepherd” don’t know where to go to find food and safety, so they either follow each other around and around, or they follow a stranger who has no care for their safety and welfare. The stranger may arrive to steal the sheep. Another animal may arrive to kill and eat them. “Sheep without a shepherd” are always in great danger.
Jesus recognized the crowds needed good shepherds for their souls. In the history of Israel, the kings were meant to be shepherds of God’s people, modeled after David, the Shepherd-King. In Jesus’ day, it had been a long time since a descendant of David sat on Israel’s throne. Caesar, the Roman Emperor, was now king of the Empire that ruled Judea; Herod was his usurper-puppet king in Jerusalem. The high priests, who might have served as good shepherds, were either hard-hearted or corrupt or both. No wonder Jesus’ heart broke over the crowds who followed him.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Jesus could see the problem. The sheep needed good shepherds! What did they need to know that a good shepherd could teach them? They needed to know, above all else, how much God loved them. Every person needs to know this truth. When we know, beyond any doubt, that God loves us, foolish sheep that we are, and that we can count on his constant care for us, we become safe, contented sheep. We can be kept in peace no matter what dangers we may face.
Jesus, of course, is the Good Shepherd-King promised by God through his prophets to care for his flock. His time on earth was limited, so he chose twelve disciples to be his own shepherds for his needy sheep. He gave them both spiritual authority and gifts to preach the Gospel to the“troubled” and “abandoned” in the house of Israel first. Later, he would send them out to all the world. They were to announce that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These twelve, in turn, ordained others after them to continue shepherding God’s faithful flock, the Church—our priests, bishops, and popes. From that day to this, Jesus has not had to pity his flock. We are now and always will be in his safe keeping.
Possible Response: Lord Jesus, if I feel troubled or abandoned, it is not because I do not have a Good Shepherd. It is probably because I am not listening to him. Help me follow your lead today.
First Reading (Read Exodus 19:2-62)
After God miraculously delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he had a message to give them through Moses, their leader. It began with a profession of love for them, a love that he had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt: “You have seen for yourselves … how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself.” We do not see the word “love” in these words, but we do see a poetic expression of it that is tender, protective, desirous of close physical proximity. In other words, the message was given in the language of a lover. Then, God went on to explain why it was reasonable for his beloved people to hearken to his voice and keep his covenant, his nuptial agreement with them. He would be their God, and they would be his people. If they walked in the joy of that covenant love, obeying his commands, they would be his “special possession,” dearer to him than all other people, although all people were his. God’s choice of the Israelites had a purpose—they would be a “kingdom of priests,” ministering both to him and to all the rest of the world on his behalf. They would be his messengers to the nations, assuring them of his love and teaching them the liberating way of life he had given them in the covenant he made with them on Mt. Sinai.
God’s ancient “election” of the Israelites as his kingdom of priests on earth explains why, in our Gospel reading, Jesus sent his disciples first to the house of Israel. Because of their long history with and knowledge of God, they should have been receptive to the Good News Jesus came to deliver. The time had finally arrived when the Jews could begin to fulfill their mission and become “a holy nation,” the flock now tended by their loving Good Shepherd.
Possible Response: Father, you show no partiality among the people you have made. Some of us are chosen, “elected,” not because we are the elites but because we have work to do, spreading your kingdom here on earth. Help me be faithful to my mission.
Psalm (Read Psalm 100)
This psalm describes in poetic song the good news the Jews first, and later the Church, needed to announce to the whole world: “We are his people: the sheep of his flock.” It reminds us that “he made us, his we are,” and it assures us of God’s faithful love, a kindness that endures forever. When Jesus sent his disciples out, this was exactly the message they were to deliver. We should wholeheartedly heed its call to us today: “Sing joyfully to the Lord … come before him with joyful song.”
Possible Response: The psalm is a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Romans 5:6-11)
St. Paul expands on the theme of God’s great love for his people in a direct and vivid example. He says all of us know that if we were asked to give our lives for a good person, we might be able “with difficulty” to do it. God has proved his love for us, sinners though we are, by sending Jesus to die for us. He did not wait for us to be good enough, because he knew we never could be. Jesus paid our debt by his death and Resurrection; he has reconciled us with our Father. St. Paul stresses that we have every reason, now that God has proved his love so completely, to continue to live our lives as people confident of that love and eager to return it to him by how we live every day of our lives.
Possible Response: Father, never let me grow indifferent to what it cost you to prove your love for me. Help me be willing to pay the cost of loving you today.