The Scripture readings for today (16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) all focus around the Lord as our Shepherd – Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23; Eph 2:13-18; and Mk 6:30-34.
However, a closer look at these passages reveals that we are invited to more than simply seeing the Lord as our Shepherd. What Holy Mother
Church is inviting us to do is meditate upon the Lord as our GOOD Shepherd, and
specifically in the aspect of true doctrine.
For example, we see in Eph 2:13-18 that Jesus is the Good
Shepherd who not only “preached peace” (v17); but who also shows Himself as the
Good Shepherd who IS our peace (v14). How is He our peace? St. Paul tells us
that Jesus is our peace because He broke down the walls of hostility by His
death on the Cross (v16) – in other words, He is the Good Shepherd who lays
down His Life for the sheep (Jn 10:11).
In the Gospel reading, we see that Jesus the Good Shepherd concerned
about the welfare of His Apostles – He desires that they take some time to “rest
a while” following the preaching mission that they had just returned from (see
Mk 6:7-13). But when Jesus saw the crowds who continued to seek Him, He confirmed
that He truly was the Good Shepherd by ministering to the people despite His
exhaustion. This was no doubt in order to exemplify to His Apostles what was expected
of them as the future shepherds of His Church. What is particularly interesting
about the Gospel reading is that the Lord’s ministry to the people is in the
form of doctrine i.e. “He began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34).
With these things in mind, I believe that the first Scripture
reading (Jer 23:1-6) contains a particularly significant truth which highlights
just how good our Good Shepherd is.
Jeremiah prophesies that in contrast to the many shepherds
who had led Israel astray into idolatry, God would raise up a wise and
righteous Shepherd (the Lord Jesus Christ) who would lead His people into all
truth (v5). In verse 4, we are told that the perpetual protection of God’s
people would be assured by the fact that He would appoint other good shepherds to
lead them. Jesus taught that this prophecy would be fulfilled in His Church
when He taught that He would keep His Church from straying into doctrinal error
(e.g. Jn 16:13-14; Matt 16:18).
Going back briefly to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians –
in the context of the unity of the Church (Eph 4:3-5), which includes doctrinal
unity (ONE FAITH), St. Paul talks about the Church’s responsibility to maintain
that unity (v3). This responsibility, however, is not without hope and
insurmountable because it is accompanied by a great and precious promise – the
Lord Jesus Christ would Himself give gifts to His Church (vv7-11) which St.
Paul lists as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Note that the gifts referred to are gifts relating to orthodoxy
(right doctrine). In keeping with the preceding context, the purpose of these
gifts is to maintain the unity of the faith of the Church. For how long? St.
Paul tells us in Eph 4:13 that it the gifts will remain in force until the
Church is fully conformed to the image of Christ.
This means St. Paul believed and taught that true doctrine
would be preserved in the Church that Jesus Christ founded until the consummation
of all things at the end of time when the Lord returns in glory. St. Paul believed
that with regards to doctrine, the Catholic Church would always remain infallible.
Sadly, there are many non-Catholic Christians who disagree
with St. Paul on this point by believing that the Catholic Church has fallen
into heresy (some would even say apostasy). However, they are willing to
believe that God preserved the Scriptures as infallible (including the New
Testament). What is odd about this view is that the Church preceded any of the
writings of the New Testament. In their view the fallible Church produced the infallible
New Testament. And more than this, it was the fallible Church which declared
which writings should even be considered as Canonical Scripture in the first
place. It is a logical fallacy to believe that a fallible Church infallibly
created and declared the infallible Scriptures. If they are willing to believe
that God, by the Holy Spirit, has preserved the Scriptures from teaching error,
surely it isn’t such a leap of faith to also believe that God, by the same
Spirit, has also preserved the Church from teaching error in interpreting the
Scriptures. After all, who better to interpret the Scriptures than Holy Mother
Church who gave us the Scriptures in the first place?
This makes even more sense when we further consider that
Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church; and if this be the case, then we can
safely assume that He will also lead His Body into all truth (just as He
As we meditate on the Liturgy of the Word today, may we be
ever thankful to our Good Shepherd that He has given us the assurance of
infallibility in the Holy Catholic Church so that we “need no longer fear and
tremble” (Jer 23:4), being “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of
doctrine” (Eph 4:14). Rather, let us always listen to the voice of our Good
Shepherd as He speaks through His Holy Catholic Church, so that we may become conformed