The first reading is suggested by the observation in today’s gospel that Jesus had compassion on the multitude “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
In ancient Israel, as in other cultures of the ancient Near East, the figures of king and shepherd were very closely associated. David the shepherd boy was taken from among the flock to be king over the united kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
Although we should not sentimentalize the idea of shepherding (as talk of the “gentle Shepherd” might tempt us to do, although the Hebrew word for “shepherd” also means “to rule”), it is still true that the image of shepherd contains within it the notion of feeding and providing for the flock—in fact, much of what we associate with pastoral care.
Jeremiah, writing toward the end of the reign of Zedekiah just before the final captivity in 587, looks back over recent reigns and condemns the last kings of Judah as shepherds who have misgoverned their flock.
The denunciation concludes with the promise of a “righteous Branch” (“The Lord is our righteousness” is a play on the name Zedekiah). This scion of the house of David will be the Messiah, the ideal king.
Jeremiah, of course, was thinking purely in historical terms—of the restoration of the Davidic monarchy after a period of exile. But his words kindled a hope in Israel which, in the perspective of Christian faith, finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus the Christ.
Responsorial Psalm: 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
The first two stanzas of this psalm, the most familiar in the psalter, picture Yhwh as shepherd, while the third and fourth stanzas portray him as host at a banquet in the temple.
The royal theology of Judah found no contradiction between the notion that both Yhwh and the king were Israel’s shepherd, for the king was the sacramental embodiment of Yhwh’s kingship and shepherdhood.
Christian faith sees the same dual notion fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
He is the one through whom God exercises his eschatological rule and shepherds his people. The second stanza suggests that it is particularly at the Eucharistic banquet that Christ exercises his shepherding function.
This passage is the theological core of the letter to the Ephesians. Looking back over the career of Paul, the Deutero-Pauline writer contemplates the results of the Apostle’s work.
Jew and Gentile have been brought together into a single community, the body of Christ. Christ on the cross (that is, by his death as the event of salvation) has fulfilled and abolished the law, not as moral demand, but as the way of salvation. Christians now keep the law because they have been saved by grace, not in order to earn salvation.
Now both Jew and Gentile have access in one body to the Father. “Access” is a liturgical term denoting the approach to God in worship.
Note the Trinitarian character of the final sentence: through Christ in one Spirit to the Father. Note, too, that Ephesians 2:13 alludes to Isaiah 57:19, while verse 17 cites and provides its Christian application. This indicates the sermonic quality of Ephesians.
This excerpt is highly composite. Mark 6:30-33 form a link between the mission of the disciples and the feeding of the multitude. They bear clear signs of Mark’s editorial work.
Mark 6:30 points back to the mission of the Twelve (here only in Mark are the Twelve called “apostles,” a term that was not originally a title but functional). Mark 6:31, often used in connection with retreats, points forward to the feeding. Mark 6:32 introduces a favorite theme of Mark’s—teaching given in secrecy to the Twelve, though the fulfillment of this intention is delayed until Mark 8 (on the way to Caesarea Philippi).
Mark 6:34 is the beginning of a new pericope, the feeding of the multitude (cf. the variant in Mk 8:2). The reference to the shepherd motif is probably pre-Marcan and gives a special emphasis to the miraculous feeding. But the note about teaching looks redactional; Mark frequently emphasizes Jesus’ teaching activity without giving the content of his teaching.