‘They were like sheep without a shepherd’

Sixteenth Sunday of the Year B

This reading anticipates the two ways in which Jesus continues to feed us: by Word and Sacrament. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.

Mark 6:30-34

30 The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. 31 Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. 32 So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. 33 But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. 34 So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.

Other readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 22 (23) Ephesians 2:13-18


The disciples have been sent out ‘two by two’ by Jesus in order to preach repentance and to heal the sick. After some time they return. While the evangelist normally refers to the followers of Jesus as ‘disciples’, those who are in the process of learning, as they return from their missions he calls them ‘apostles’, those sent out.

Jesus is concerned for their well-being and invites them to go with him to a lonely place in order to find peace and rest. It seems that the popularity of Jesus has influenced the mission of the disciples and that they too were in great demand. Their plan for some time of peace and quiet is frustrated. A crowd has already gathered at their destination. Mark speaks constantly in the early chapters of the gospel of the crowds who are eager for the words and works of Jesus.

This passage comes just before the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the five thousand. Before giving them food to eat Jesus teaches them ‘at some length’. We see anticipated in this chapter the two ways in which Jesus continues to feed us: by Word and Sacrament. All this is motivated by his compassion for the crowd who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’.

The image of the shepherd who cares for the real needs of the sheep is often used in Scripture for those who have responsibility to care for people. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the shepherds, in this case the rulers, who let the flock be destroyed and scattered, and looks forward to the coming of true shepherds. The psalm speaks of the Lord as the perfect shepherd who sees to the needs of his people, and the reading from Ephesians speaks of Christ as ‘the peace between us’, who reconciles Jew and Gentile.

Why is the image of the ‘good shepherd’ so popular?

How can we treasure more deeply the gifts of Word and Sacrament?

Let us pray for leaders who will have the good of their people as their priority.

Let us pray for those who are exhausted by ministering to others and can find no place of rest.

INT-IMG_5349 Fr Adrian Graffy (3)Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.

Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”

He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”

Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).

Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy