16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year B

Let us be wary of voices which affirm us in exactly the way we are now and who don’t provide compassionate direction.

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First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6

  • The Lord announced through Jeremiah that he was taking shepherding of the people away from their leaders and would do it himself. What does this say about the care God has for his people and the way he is willing to intervene?
  • Integrity, honesty, and truth are highlighted as particularly important characteristics in leadership. How does this help us to evaluate leadership in the different spheres of life, and how we ourselves go about leadership roles?

Psalm: 22(23)

  • This is, with psalm 51, perhaps the most famous psalm in the Bible: it needs little introduction and picks up the rich thread of shepherding that we see throughout the Scriptures from Abel to Jesus.
  • One interesting connection that can be drawn from this psalm, to link it to the reading from Jeremiah, is the line: “he is true to his name”. Jeremiah concluded his passage with the assertion: “he will be called: The-Lord-our-integrity”. How might this help us unpack the psalm further?

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:13-18

  • This passage refers primarily to the coming together, by the blood of Jesus, of Jews and Gentiles. How, though, might its message apply more broadly, especially with regard to divisions and disagreements among Christians?
  • Paul beautifully lays out the message of the gospel of peace here, culminating in the wonderful promise that in the single Body of Christ we all have access – equally – to God the Father.
  • In what ways can we see pursuing peace and reconciliation as honouring the work of Jesus on the cross?

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34

  • Following their being sent out, and the recounting of the death of John the Baptist, the Twelve returned to Jesus; immediately following this brief interlude Mark moves into his account of the feeding of the five thousand.
  • Jesus was firm with the apostles that, following their tiring ministry work, they needed to relax and recover their strength. Notice that when the crowds come close, it isn’t the apostles who initially respond but Jesus himself who set himself to teach them, thereby protecting the apostles.


Jeremiah is known as a grumpy prophet. That doesn’t just come across in his writings, but in how we hear people responded to him.

We have an element of that edge in Jeremiah’s voice today: that can make it uncomfortable to hear him, but perhaps that makes it all the more necessary.

Just read again the first words in Jeremiah’s passage today: “doom for the shepherds”!

What a way to start! Of course, Jeremiah didn’t mean shepherds in a literal sense: he was referring to political and religious leaders. Men with authority and responsibility for shaping the lives of the people God had committed to their care.

The accusation against them is just as blunt: they had let God’s people be destroyed and scattered, by not taking care of them.

We have a picture, then, of leaders complacent in their own position, not willing to take care of the flock committed to them.

If we read on in this chapter of Jeremiah, we encounter these striking words: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Jeremiah 23:16-17 (ESV)

The prophets of Jeremiah’s day, it seems, were just concerned with an easy life. Regardless of how destructively people were living, they reassured them that their path was ok; they would be ok.

We can see that type of attitude today, in so many different areas of life. We might think of climate change, as just one example: some leaders downplay the importance of protecting our environment and tell us that the scientific projections are exaggerated. We don’t need to worry, we don’t need to change anything about the way we live.

Last week we looked at what repentance is and its importance to our lives. Repentance means being able to accept and embrace the need for change. Leaders need to be able to accurately diagnose problems and to shepherd people into the necessary changes to address those problems.

Our shepherd, of course, is Jesus Christ. He is the one that Jeremiah spoke about: the virtuous Branch for David, the wise and true king.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that one of the qualities Jeremiah points out for this king is his honesty. Jesus came to testify to the truth, as he said to Pontius Pilate, even if that were to bring a sword; a sword that ultimately heals.

The lesson of these readings is to be wary of voices which affirm you in exactly the way you are now and who don’t provide compassionate direction. All of life is a process of growing and maturing as we come to reflect the image of Christ more and more. To do that we need that constant motion of change, of repentance.

Listen for the authentic voice of Christ, who as a faithful shepherd sets about to teach you in the way you should go.


  • Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes: on how the Church interacts with the modern world
  • Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: on how we should respond to the environmental situation
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 754: the Church as sheepfold and Jesus as shepherd