Jesus, the Good Shepherd, models compassionate leadership.
Over the past few Sundays, we have heard about the role of teaching, preaching and healing in Jesus’ ministry. Today’s readings focus on leadership formation, another essential element of spreading the Gospel.
His heart was moved with pity for them. (Mk 6:34)
How do you show compassion to others?
What do you think is needed for good leadership?
How do you react when you encounter people in need?
The short Gospel reading, from Mark, is the introduction to the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes, which we will hear next Sunday. The apostles meet with Jesus to share the teachings and works they have done. In response to their efforts, Jesus insists that they all separate themselves from the crowds in order to rest, giving the developing leaders time to reflect and restore themselves along the journey. The Gospel builds in self-care and renewal as necessities for good leaders. The group takes a boat to a deserted area to be by themselves.
Because Jesus was gaining notoriety on account of his ministry, many people recognized the group and hurried to meet them. Although Jesus calls for time alone, he changes course when he encounters the people in need, because he had compassion for them. Jesus was “moved with pity,” recognizing their desire to be with him. Jesus offers another model of leadership, selfless care and willingness to help. Jesus chooses to teach the crowd because he sees their need for leadership, as they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”
This statement has echoes in the first reading, from Jeremiah. In his sermon, the prophet reflects on the lack of leadership in his community, with rulers (shepherds) contributing to destruction and exile of the people of Judah (flock). Jeremiah condemns these bad shepherds but offers hope that a remnant of the flock would return from exile in Babylon and rebuild. Jeremiah proclaims that a future leader from the line of David would govern this returning community wisely, doing “what is just and right in the land.” This future leader might have been envisioned as Zedekiah or Zerubbabel, as the Hebrew text includes wordplays that allude to one or both of these leaders. Centuries later, the Gospel writers would come to connect this righteous leader from the line of David with Jesus.
Today’s readings teach several important points about leadership. The Gospel instills rest, retreat and recovery into missionary work. Moreover, it instills compassion into leadership. Jesus recognizes an absence of leadership and the needs of people in the moment, and he steps up to lead. In this, he embodies Jeremiah’s hope for good leaders who will embody justice and righteousness. Good shepherds govern justly and wisely for the benefit of all people.
Next Sunday we will hear John’s version of the feeding of the multitudes, and today’s Gospel is Mark’s lead-in to this important miracle story. Jesus, moved with compassion, not only stops and connects with people and teaches them, but he then feeds them when they are hungry. Leadership is an active encounter and engagement that can nurture people spiritually and physically.