Reflection on the 16th Sunday in Ordinary time-B

by Fr Ncamiso Vilakati

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”

Being a social network ‘junkie’, I must admit, have come across this quotation in reference to the part of Psalm 23: “He anoints my head with oil”. Like many I have always thought it is a figurative language for God keeping the Psalmists healthy. But the author of the post put it like this: “Sheep can get their head caught in briers and die trying to get untangled. There are horrid little flies that like to torment sheep by laying eggs in their nostrils which turn into worms and drive the sheep to beat their head against a rock, sometimes to death. Their ears and eyes are also susceptible to tormenting insects. So, the shepherd anoints their whole head with oil. Then there is peace. That oil forms a barrier of protection against evil that tries to destroy the sheep.”

It is so soothing that in the Gospel, (Mark 6: 30-34); we see Jesus the true and caring shepherd inviting the apostles whom he had sent, to rest a little in a place on the side-lines. He offers oil of tranquillity after a tedious task which his collaborators have embarked on. After having gone two by two and performed wonders, it is great to “listen” to the Lord as to what other endeavour does He want to send me. He says: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” This invitation that is also addressed to us: taken from a thousand commitments, we no longer find the time to be alone with Jesus. It is from this company with the Master that we can draw strength to face the fatigue of life, which can also be the difficulty to announce the Gospel every day. The secret lies in that compassion felt by Jesus for the sheep without a shepherd. Compassion does not mean having compassion on others but “suffering” with them, sharing the same difficulties and joys as if they belonged. It is easier to live knowing that there are those who bring life halfway with you.

Jesus told his disciples that he was the Good Shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep (Matthew 18:12, Luke 15:4, John 10). He shows us the image of a shepherd that tells us that God cares for all his people. Shepherding was no was no easy calling during ancient times as it required great skill and courage. Herds were often quite large, thousands or even ten thousand of sheep. The flocks spent a good part of the year in the open country. Watching over them required a great deal of attention and care. So, Jesus bringing them together shows a sign of leadership par excellence, which does not promote disintegrations. He as a caring leader, and is concerned with the welfare of his collaborators, who had gone out to cast demons, and wants them to maintain unity. The question as leaders would be are we promoting unity or schism in the life of the church by overloading our collaborators with sour words, hatred and all sorts of unsavoury words. “Uyintfo yani nje wena, good for nothing, take your place I am the one in charge”.

The leadership demonstrated by our Lord, commands that stray sheep must be brought back lest they die. Like a true shepherd, sheep who stray from the flock have to be sought out and brought back by Him. The hyenas, jackals, wolves (pride, elitism, and all sorts of self-centeredness) and bears were common and fed on sheep. Back then, it was common that the shepherds had to do battle with these wild and dangerous beasts. Good shepherds took turns watching the sheep at night and continually lived together with the flock. Their life was so intimately bound together that stray sheep, even when mixed with other flocks, could recognise the voice of their own shepherd and would come immediately when called by name. A true father or mother at home has to literally denounce his/her life on the line in defending his sheep. The voice of a parent has to be distinct, a vice that permeates collectiveness. As a result, the children ought to listen to this familiar voice which leads by example and is not divisive by its own very nature.

The context is similar in the first reading (Jeremiah 23: 1-6); where the inventiveness of Jeremiah is against the last kings of the kingdom of Judah. Instead of guiding the people like real shepherds, helping them grow, they pursued their personal interests, causing their disintegration and consequently the death of the people of God. This way of governing, will be persecuted by God who will himself take the lead of the flock, giving them His security and tranquillity. He will bring His flock together and put the person who will take care of it and protect it forever. This character is presented as the “right shoot” and is prefiguration of Jesus, good shepherd, who has taught us that whoever wants to be the first must make himself the servant of all. Each of us is entrusted with someone: we do not lord it over him but let us serve his dreams.

St Paul says (Ephesian 2: 13-18); we were far off but have now become close through His blood. Again, we find a people divided first but Jesus is instrumental in gathering them together, providing through his blood the perfect anointing. The sacrifice of Christ is an occasion that allows everyone to approach God because, with his death and resurrection, He has reconciled everyone with the Father. Jews and pagans, different in worship and mentality, can now be one people only because they are members of the body of Christ, a new man and a sign of a new humanity. The announcement of peace for the neighbours, and especially for the distant ones, is intrinsically linked to the fact that Christ with his death has destroyed all enmity. As a consequent, Christians are builders of bridges, so that there are no divisions, but unity and peace.

Although fatigued from mental torment, the worms of what people say about us, Jesus the good shepherd says come and rest a while in a deserted place. the worrisome thoughts that invade our minds repeatedly because of close “friends” who continually belittle us is a thing of the past. He wants to anoint our foreheads so those flies who disguise as children, sibling, friends or relatives are emitted from your precarious system. Don’t beat your head against the wall trying stop them. Ask the good Shepherd, God to anoint your head with His special oil of inner peace. He has endlessly in supply! His oil protects and makes it possible for you to fix your heart, mind and eyes on Him today and always! There is peace in the valley! May our good Father anoint your head with oil today so that your cup overflows with blessings! God is good, and He is faithful!

Say aloud my brother and sister this short prayer: “Lord Jesus, you guard and protect us from all evil. Help me stand firm in your word and to trust in your help in all circumstances. May I always find rest and refuge in the shelter of your presence.”

Blessed Sunday to you all, May God bless you always!