In the first reading today, the prophet Jeremiah rails against the shepherds who failed to take care of their sheep: “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered – it is the Lord who speaks.” The prophet understood how God’s people had been ill-treated and despised by those who preached the word of God; devotees of the law, who lacked the necessary compassion to help the suffering people to rise out of their misery. Guilt lay more with them, than with the downtrodden people.
Jesus saw the misery of the people and took pity on them. The time had come for them to be brought home to the Kingdom of God. Jesus could not do this work alone. He needed disciples who, not only shared the love of His heart but had been given the grace to see how the people could be helped. He instructed the disciples, walked with them and then sent them forth, in twos, to minister with His power: A power stronger than that exercised by the Prince of Darkness.
In today’s gospel, the Twelve had returned to Jesus to report on all the wonderful things that they had done in His name. “They drove out many devils and many sick people they anointed with oil and cured.” ( Mark 6:13) Knowing how tired they were, Jesus brought them by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves, but the people had anticipated where they would go and had arrived before them. Jesus “took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd and he set himself to teach them at some length” (Mark 6:34). After that he fed them.
We have a picture here of Jesus’ compassion, not only for his disciples but also, for the suffering people. Shepherds and sheep – all needed His tenderness.
In our time, many people are experiencing alienation and the breakdown of community, often because of extreme poverty and addiction. In the city of Los Angeles, over 100,000 young, angry, marginalised youth, join gangs. Their tattooed bodies, scarred by violence, are often found in lonely alleyways, cut short by violent rivals. Those who survive, spend the years of their youth, rotating in and out of prison.
Fr. Greg Boyle S.J., founder of Homeboys Industries, for the past thirty years, has provided employment opportunities as a way out of gang life. Rehab, including anger management and therapy, exists for those who want help. He understands that the only way for emotionally wounded gang members to heal, is for them to experience tenderness and compassion, the kind that Jesus offered in the gospel.
In Homeboys Industries, young people, kicked to the kerb by life, experience a safe place of connection and kinship that ultimately offers healing. Each ‘homie’ is provided the opportunity to come to know the truth about himself and to like what he finds. “Training will come as a kind of side-order, but the main meal is tenderness and healing” (Fr. Greg Boyle in “Tattoos on the Heart”).
In Fr. Greg, or ‘G’ as the homies call him, I found an authentic shepherd who believed that the poor had some privileged delivery system for giving him access to the gospel. For his part, he provided the young men who came through Homeboy Industries’ doors, a life, free from constant tension, harassment and worry. They found a community of kinship, a place where they were not judged, but accepted and affirmed, “a place soaked with the joy of the gospel,” a place apart where they could “marinate in the intimacy of God”- to use Fr. Greg’s words.
Surely, this is what the Kingdom of God is all about?
Maeve Mc Mahon O.P.