Just before the Israelites are invaded and forced into captivity in Babylon in 587, the Prophet Jeremiah in our First Reading looks back at the leadership of recent kings and condemns them, comparing them to bad shepherds who have misruled their flock. His denunciation ends in our reading today with the promise that a “virtuous Branch” would one day emerge to provide good leadership once more. This person, from the house or line of King David, would be their ideal leader, their Messiah.
Jeremiah, of course, was thinking purely of the restoration of the monarchy of King David after the people’s exile in Babylon would end. But his prediction sparked a hope in Israel that for Jews has not been fulfilled so far. They still await the Messiah. However, for the Christian Church Jeremiah’s promise has been fulfilled in Jesus. A member of the House of David through his foster-father Joseph, in Christianity Jesus is given the title of The Christ, the Anointed One or Messiah, who is the virtuous leader of God’s people promised by Jeremiah.
At the end of our Gospel today, St Mark speaks of Jesus trying to lead his weary disciples, after their first missionary journey, to a place of peace and quiet. However, his efforts are in vain as people still seek him out with their problems. And rather than being frustrated or annoyed with them for disturbing his rest, Mark tells us that “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
Clearly, St Mark had Jeremiah’s prophesy in mind when he describes Jesus here as a shepherd. Unlike the leaders of the past denounced by Jeremiah for their self-interest and corruption, here is a demonstration of Jesus caring for people as a dedicated shepherd tends to his flock.
Our Church is built on this compassion and care of Jesus for people, whatever their problems or needs. And such compassion and support must be the hallmark of ours and every parish. We accept all without judgement and, like Jesus, turn no one away. As a community moulded in Christ’s image, we try to extend the warmth of his love to everyone – young or old, married, single or divorced and whatever their gender or sexuality, all are welcome. It is Christ’s Church, not ours.
It is into such a Church that Julia, Mark, Kevin and Trudy are being received today. It is the Church of Christ the Good Shepherd. May they know the care, compassion and love of this Shepherd and always find among us here tangible expressions of his healing care for them and, not least, those who find life’s journey wearying or burdensome.
Holy Name, Jesmond
18 July 2021