Sunday, July 22, is the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B). Mass Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-18, Mark 6:30-34.

You may think that we live in a divided and dangerous time, but the ancient world was a violent place, in which different groups constantly competed for land, resources and prestige. Warfare was so common that the Old Testament offhandedly refers to the season of spring as “the time when kings go to war.” Since it lay at a crossroads between powerful nations, Israel was regularly invaded, and there was great hostility between the Israelites and the Gentiles — the peoples of “the nations.”

Even within Israel, all was not well. The nation had leaders who cared only for themselves and not the people they were charged to protect. Therefore, through the prophet Jeremiah, God declared, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture!” The Lord himself had mercy on his sheep and promised to “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble.” In particular, he promised the days of a coming Messiah, “when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king, he shall reign and govern wisely.”

This happened in the first century, when the Jewish people were laboring under the heavy yoke of Roman rule. They longed for the Messiah to come and deliver them from their oppression by the Gentiles, and they responded eagerly to the message of Jesus, hoping that he would drive out the Romans and restore Israel to its former glory. When Jesus saw the vast crowds that followed him into the wilderness, “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd” — vulnerable, disorganized, without anyone to care for and protect them.

But Jesus would provide something better than political deliverance. Instead, he came to save both Jews and Gentiles from the ancient bondage of sin and hostility. Previously, God used the Law of Moses to protect the Israelites, to give them cultural cohesion and to make it easier for them to follow the true God instead of idols. But now Jesus’ death and his gift of the Holy Spirit would enable both groups to live together in harmony and holiness. Thus St. Paul tells his readers, “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commands and legal claims.”

Today all of us — Jews and Gentiles — can live together in peace, following the one Shepherd that God has sent. Today we can all have the confidence and freedom from fear that comes from knowing that “the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; besides restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” Though we face trials in life, today each one of us can trust the Good Shepherd and know that “only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.”

Jimmy Akin is the senior apologist at Catholic Answers,

a contributing editor to Catholic Answers Magazine

and a weekly guest on Catholic Answers Live. He blogs at NCRegister.com.