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The remnant and the true shepherds

On the Readings for Sunday, July 18, 2021


• Jer 23:1-6
• Psa 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
• Eph 2:13-18
• Mk 6:30-34

Today’s Gospel is the sort of short reading that can easily be overlooked, because of its length and because it marks a swift transition between the sending of the twelve “out two by two” (Mk 6:7-13) and the dramatic account of the feeding of the five thousand (Mk 6:30-43). There is also the lengthy and moving story of the murder of John the Baptist (vs. 14-29), which provides a palpable sense of the dangers facing Jesus and his followers.

Yet these five verses (30-34) are filled with important information about the relationship between the apostles and Jesus, as well as between Jesus and the people, described here as “the vast crowd”. Notably, this is the only place in Mark’s Gospel in which the twelve are identified as “the apostles”. An apostle (apostolos in Greek) is one who is sent forth by someone with authority in order to be a representative or ambassador for that particular person. In the New Testament, it refers to a distinctive office instituted by Jesus.

The apostles were men chosen by Jesus, and those men were direct witnesses to the person and power of their Lord. And so it is fitting they are not identified as such witnesses until after they had, in fact, spent time witnessing by preaching repentance, casting out demons, and healing the sick.

The apostles, having been given authority by Jesus, gathered together with him to report “all they had done and taught.” They had a responsibility to answer directly to Christ. Likewise, as bishops they would continue to be accountable to Christ and to the Petrine office established upon Peter the Rock (Mt 16:16-20), a responsibility placed upon each and every bishop throughout the history of the Church.

This is directly connected to Jesus being the Good Shepherd, whose heart is moved with pity for the vast crowds that followed him. The relationship between sheep and shepherd is one mentioned often the Old Testament, sometimes referring to the relationship between the people and their leaders, and sometimes between the people and God. In Genesis, God is described as “the Shepherd” (Gen. 49:24); there are many references to the people of Israel as being sheep without a shepherd or master (1 Kng 22:17; 2 Chr 18:16). This theme is developed at length by many of the prophets, most notably Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

For example, Ezekiel 34 is a long condemnation of corrupt, sinful leaders—both religious and civil—who proved to be unworthy shepherds. Today’s reading from Jeremiah is a strong condemnation of those who failed to protect and care for the people: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture … You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.”

Jeremiah prophesied of a coming day when God would gather “a remnant” of his flock, appointing good and holy men “who will “shepherd them.” The twelve apostles were the beginning of that flock. Notice that after they had performed the difficult work of preaching and witnessing, Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” This rest was not only physical rest, but spiritual restoration. While the desert and wilderness could be a place of testing and trial, it was also a place of solitude and revival when accompanied by God (cf. Ex 33:14; Heb 4:9-11).

Each of us—whether you are a bishop, priest, religious, or lay person—needs  rest from the cares of the world and time spent in quiet solitude with God. “The mind of man is incapable of perceiving the truth clearly,” wrote St. Basil the Great, “if it is distracted by innumerable worldly cares.”

In Christ, as the Apostle Paul teaches, lasting peace is realized and granted. As King David expressed so beautifully: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” The good and divine shepherd, Jesus Christ, guides us, protects us, feeds us, and gives us peace.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 22, 2012 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. “My shepherds have become killers and wolves, because they kill my white lambs in front of my gaze, and the old sheep are sick to death, because they eat not from the lofty meadows in the high mountains, that is divine love and holy truth….Therefore, I must cover my holy bride with a new cloak.” (St Mechthild, “Ich tanze wenn du mich fuehrst” from German book)

    • I almost cried when I read your comment because it is so true of today. My husband and I are much like the older sheep you mentioned who are starving for lack of sustenance. We see the Eucharist prepared in front of us every Sunday but cannot partake. We recently woke up to the fact that Novus Ordo Communion services with large numbers of people receiving Communion in the hand are subjecting Our Lord to being abused and trampled underfoot by the faithful.

      There is no way to participate without trampling Him ourselves. Any fragment that falls from someone’s hand, no matter how small, is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. The laity are generally not properly mindful of Consecrated Hosts because 85% of them no longer believe in the Real Presence. Our eyes are too old to discern the fragments they drop. Nor can we allow Eucharistic ministers with unconsecrated hands to sin by bringing Holy Communion to us.

      My husband and I would not only rather starve ourselves than risk trampling Our Lord, we are not willing to further endanger the soul of our priest. So we abstain, remain in our pews, and beg God’s pardon for our brothers and sisters who are unaware of how badly they are offending God.

      We also pray for our priest. According to St. Veronica Giuliani, a Great Saint who had many visions of Hell, God holds priests responsible for Jesus being trampled. She said that such priests occupy one of the seven lowest levels of Hell and receive the worst tortures. It’s quite easy to look up online.

  2. We read: “Each of us—whether you are a bishop, priest, religious, or lay person—needs rest from the cares of the world and time spent in quiet solitude with God.”

    “Keep safe what you have received” (Ambrose, On the Mysteries, Liturgy of the Hours, Thursday, Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Times).

  3. Today, as always, but more so this day, after the appalling day of 16 July 2021, and recalling the repulsive ugliness of the idolatry in Rome in October 2019, I offer my heartfelt thanks for the faithful men and women of Catholic World Report.

    May the Holy Spirit strengthen you and prosper every faithful work that you do.

    Semper Fidelis…

  4. He began to send them out two by two rather than alone has the connotation that the Church is a body. In the Infantry as a point man I was always sent out with another, the two of us a team who supported each other, two pairs of eyes, shared knowledge. Also we remind each other of our mission. In the Africa missions when possible priests were assigned as pairs, although it wasn’t always possible due to manpower. At a Southwest reservation mission I was the only priest, although two Franciscan sisters who resided in a nearby town were an appreciated help and gave a greater sense of mission. A good account of Apostolic ministry as formed by the Good Shepherd teaching us how to shepherd, and how to revitalize ourselves in a desert place alone with God [Laity not excluded]. Christ frequently rose early during the night to a lonely retreat. An example according to the Fathers. Augustine wrote extensively on the relation of shepherd to sheep, those who fattened themselves on their wool, milk rather than serve them spiritually, who fled when the wolf approached. At this precarious unsettled time the wolf can be your associate or pastor. What to do is varied and sensitive, nonetheless necessary to address. With Christ it can be met if not fully resolved. It’s the parishioners who matter and worth every sacrifice. If we faithfully demonstrate our love for them not only will they assuredly respond, we will personally realize Our Lord’s wonderful compensation. As you end saying, He will also feed us.

    • Father Peter:

      As one former Catholic military man to another, I thank you for your faithfulness, and I thank God for all holy priests, who imitate Our Lord, the Goiod Shepherd.

      May God multiply your years, and multiply his true and holy priests.

  5. Dear sir, l’m an 81 year old religious Bishop who has lived as a solitary hermit fo the past 20 years after being expelled for being to lenient in questions of the Holy Rule from a traditional Carmelite monastery in Seville Spain where l ran the monastic carpentry for 30 years. I tend to think for myself which is always prudent in the religious life.
    I left the Roman Church in 1967 because of the cowardice of the Catholic Church in England over the abortion Act.but returned as a result of writing a theses on art whrough which l realised that art was a profound study of the glorious and infinite work of God’s creation. I met Archbishop Thuc in the South of Spain in 1975 who befor his return to Rome sujested l go forward for the priesthood which l did in Feb 1976 and later consecrated Bishop in Limoges in the south of France later returning to Sevilla where two years later l joined a traditional Carmelite community where l remained for 30 years. I have been very impressed by the comments on your web site and will rember you all in my Daly Mass (Tridentine) God Bless you all. Father Joseph Ward Bishop + .

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