Jer 23:1-6 • Eph 2:13-18 • Mk 6:30-34
An elderly man was close to dying. Lying in his bed, he smelled the aroma of his favorite cookies coming from the kitchen. With all of his might and all of his will power he climbed out of his bed and all but crawled to the kitchen where his wife was baking. With all the exertion, his hand trembled terribly as it reached for a cookie. Just as he was about to pick one up, his wife smacked his hand with a spatula. “Put it back!” she said, “They’re for the funeral.”
Every curse can be seen as a blessing in disguise. For example, it seems to be a curse that gasoline prices are reaching new highs. Filling up the tank of some vehicles now costs well over $100. What a curse it is that so much more of our income must be used just to get back and forth to our jobs; however, what a blessing it might be that we stay at home with our families more. What a blessing it can be that we must be better at prioritizing our activities.
What a curse it is that we are seeing religious liberties threatened in so many new ways. What a curse it is that so many people do not care about religion and thus don’t care about religious liberty. However, what a blessing adversity can be to faith. Nikita Khrushchev, a former premier of the Soviet Union, once said, “Religion is like a nail. The harder you hit it the deeper it goes.”
Hard times, injustices, terrorism, war all seem to be such curses, and they are. Jeremiah, however, sees opportunity. He shows us that if we perceive curses in a different way, we can see opportunities to build trust in God. Trusting God means that we choose to live the way God has asked us regardless of the challenge and difficulty, regardless of the many reasons there might be to quit trusting in Him. The 23rd Psalm puts into beautiful poetry the benefits of trust in God.
Jeremiah began his 40-year career (the longest of all the prophets) around 622 B.C. during a time of religious reform begun by King Josiah. Unfortunately, King Josiah was killed in battle and was replaced by his son Jehoiakin. Not trusting Jeremiah’s promises made by God, King Jehoiakin gave up on religious reform and abandoned God for the sake of trusting in treaties with other nations in order to preserve his throne.
Jeremiah thus condemned the King. As a result, Jehoiakin pushed Jeremiah aside and relied instead on his court prophets, all of whom would say what was necessary to stay in the King’s good graces. He used the court prophets to discredit and condemn Jeremiah. Our passage from Jeremiah today reveals God’s response to the King and the court prophets. If they will not trust God, then God has no use for them.
Kings had long been called shepherds, and it was their sacred duty to keep their kingdom pointed toward God and not allow it to wander away. Jeremiah used the image of the kingly shepherd to tell the king and his prophets that they had abandoned this sacred duty.
The 23rd Psalm, possibly the most loved of all the Psalms, speaks of God as the shepherd who will guide the flock to green pastures in order that the sheep can eat and rest. The Good Shepherd will guide the flock to “still waters” where sheep can drink without fear. This image of an anointed king serving as the good shepherd will become a messianic prophecy.
Last week we read how Jesus sent the Apostles out to preach, heal, and cast out demons in His name. In today’s Gospel we read that the Apostles have returned, and Jesus wishes to go with them to a place where they can “rest a while.” “Rest” means to rest, but this “rest” means to take the time to ponder all that has happened during the Apostles’ missionary work. We would call this a retreat.
Unfortunately, the Apostles would not get their time with Jesus. People had anticipated where Jesus was going and were waiting for Him and the Apostles at their “deserted place.” Yet what seems a curse became a blessing. We see a true shepherd spring into action. We see a shepherd who cares more about his sheep than his personal plans. The Apostles, although most likely tired and now frustrated, get a lesson in real preaching: the best preaching is not what we say but what we do.
As we look at everything that seems to be going wrong, we must trust that with God’s help, we can still turn curses into blessings. Rather than hoarding the cookies and worrying they won’t be used properly, perhaps they should be offered to someone who can really use one. TP