There seems to be a theme in the Old Testament that Faith is what happens when things fall apart; the reminder that the God of Israel enters into the messiness and failures of the human journey. We may be able to relate today to the prophet Jeremiah who is responding to the failure of the religious and political leadership. God does want to raise up true shepherds and leaders to respond in compassionate service. I recently watched a documentary called Spiritual Audacity about the Rabbi Abraham Heschel. Heschel, a scholar on the Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah we hear about today, believed that their message needed to be applied to our own contemporary situation. Heschel knew the tragedy of the holocaust and felt that faith convictions needed to take up today’s contemporary injustices. This would lead Rabbi Heschel to march with Dr Martin Luther King for Civil Rights, call for peace in the Vietnam War, and stand up for his Jewish brothers and sisters in Russia. Wherever people suffer, Rabbi Heschel believed the God of Israel, who was a compassionate liberating shepherd, calls us to respond.
Rabbi Heschel’s activism was grounded in a rich prayer life. One of the problems he saw with the contemporary world is our inability to enter into rest. The day of Sabbath, which our Jewish brothers and sisters hold as sacred, Heschel saw as the joy of being enchanted by the mystery of God. The Psalm today calls us to enter into this rest, to slow down, to appreciate what is sacred right around us. “The Lord is our shepherd” reminds us that it’s not all up to us, that this divine energy or good shepherd is what moves creation forward and we are called to respond to it.
The strength of the good shepherd that led Rabbi Heschel calls us, as we hear today in the reading of Ephesians, to break down walls of division. As tragic as the COVID 19 has been, I often wonder if the greatest sickness we face as a society and church is division that can even become hostile and violent. The community at Ephesians was calling the Christian community to practice the ministry of reconciliation, to break down the walls of division between Jews and Gentiles. The mission we want to embody in the world begins with us as a faith community. If we are honest, I think we all can probably see where we have sown the seeds of division. As we worship, let’s be open to how Christ wants to break down walls of division and make us a community of reconciliation to embody God’s compassion for all.
The gospel today reminds us we bring all the wounds of the week. Jesus and his disciples are carrying the wounds of human history. Jesus’ friend, John the Baptist, has just been murdered, and Jesus is probably grieving the loss. This is probably why Jesus is getting away from the crowds, to process it for his own healing. Jesus has to put that aside momentarily and is called to respond to the crowds who had wounds and were in need of healing. This may describe the movement of our faith life; realizing that we need the Lord to heal our wounds as we gather for worship, but then we are sent by the Spirit to respond to the wounds of others with Christ’s compassionate love.