Wyoming is a sparsely populated and spectacular state to visit. Every five years we make a pilgrimage to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
The area attracts many. Many tourists come to gawk, take photos, of which I have many, to hunt, fish, back pack, and other activities.
On June 28, 2015, Megan, Erin, and Kelsi Andrews-Sharer continued their backpacking experience in the Gros Ventre Wilderness southeast of Jackson, Wyoming. They are from Ohio. The three young women are experienced backpackers. They had good clothing, plenty of food, and good tents.
They were supposed to be in Chicago July 7th. They didn’t make it. Their alarmed parents notified the authorities in Jackson. Searches were organized. Their father Eric flew out to join the search.
The next day the searchers were hampered by a rough storm that had a driving rain, hail, and high winds. A prayer vigil was held at the Wisconsin church where the sisters attended as children.
On July 8th their car was found at a trailhead. The trailhead has many trails off of it, some created by hikers that are not mapped. Searches focused their attention to that area of the wilderness with no success. Two helicopters were also used in the search. That night the sister’s mother, Shirly, attended a prayer vigil that was held at the church the family attends. Then she flew out to Jackson.
The next day, Nate Suter was clearing a trail for the upcoming hunting season along with Kolten Cook. They saw a figure descending from a ridge and decided it was a person and not an animal. They tried to get the person’s attention, but failed.
On their way out of the area, a sheriff’s deputy asked them if they had seen any hikers in the area. They described what they saw and the helicopters were redirected to that area. The sisters were by a thick forest. Anyone going into those woods would not be seen.
On July 9th at 11AM, a helicopter spotted them. They flew back to Jackson, cold, wet, exhausted, and hungry. They were glad to be reunited with their parents. They had rationed the food they packed in.
Their father, Eric, told the media, “As you can imagine, my wife and I are very relieved and thankful that they are safe.” He was asked if he gave any advice to his daughters. He replied, “Next time, tell someone where you are going.”
In a sense, the guides who spotted a figure in the distance, acted as shepherds. They were shepherds to the lost sisters and they were shepherds to the searchers who had no idea where to look for the lost sisters. Whenever we find ourselves lost, it is good to have shepherd.
Jeremiah 23 begins with a curse to shepherds who destroy and scatter sheep. Of course, no shepherd in his right mind would do such a thing. The shepherd who did this would lose his livelihood. I say “his,” because in ancient times there were no female shepherds.
Also, of course, Jeremiah is not talking about some demented shepherd. Jeremiah is talking about the ruling class of Judah and the sheep are the people. Perhaps most damning, Jeremiah is talking about the king. The king and his ilk have scattered and driven out the people. The ruling elite are called evil.
God will go and gather all the remnant and bring them back to the Promised Land. Jeremiah quotes God saying, “They shall be fruitful and multiply.” Jeremiah is quoting Genesis purposely. God’s grand scheme is that we return to Eden where God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” (God also told all the animals to be fruitful and multiply. So there was a lot of fruitfulness and multiplying going on.) An early part of God’s plan was to lead the people from slavery in Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. The Promised Land is where the fold is.
After God has gathered the people together once more, God will raise good and faithful shepherds, shepherds like King David. With these shepherds, the people will no longer live in fear. They will not be dismayed and they will never again go missing.
God will raise up a righteous branch of David. This Davidic king will be wise, will rule with justice, and the righteous king will bring righteousness to the land. The people will be saved and the people will live in safety.
Jeremiah says the name of the king is “The Lord is our righteousness.” When Jeremiah wrote these words, the name of the king was Zedekiah. Zedekiah means, in Hebrew, “The Lord is my righteousness.” Judah was a vassal state of the Babylonian empire at this time. The king was a puppet of a foreign power. Jeremiah is mocking the king because there was no righteousness in him. The real king lives in exile in Babylon.
It was the Babylonians who changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah and made him king. Zedekiah became full of himself as king. He did not care for the people. He only cared for power. Zedekiah greatly underestimated his importance by failing to pay tribute to the Babylonians. The Babylonians returned, killed Zedekiah, leveled Jerusalem and its temple, laid waste to Judah and took everyone but the really poor into exile in Babylon.
These passages of Jeremiah as well as other passages in Jeremiah and especially Isaiah and other prophets declare that the righteous king will be of the line of David. In late BC Judaism, popular thought was that a descendant of David would come and reestablish the Davidic kingdom. This person was called the messiah. This is why the gospel writers take such great pains to link Jesus as a descendant of David, which brings us to Mark 6.
Jesus sends the disciples out two by two into the surrounding villages to spread the gospel and heal. Jesus is delegating. The disciples are learning that they can continue Jesus’ ministry without him. They return and report to Jesus all that they had done and taught.
The crowds are constantly hounding Jesus and the disciples and Jesus knows they need rest. They need sabbath. They need rest. Jesus invites them to a deserted place, a place where there are no people. The area around Galilee is not well populated even today. There are vast areas that have no activity, no farms, and no farm houses.
It is hard to see one person across the lake and it is difficult to see a group of people across the lake. But it is easy to see boats on the lake. The crowd sees their boat and where it is headed. They guessed where they were going and raced ahead on foot to meet the slow boat when it docked.
Jesus can’t shake the crowd. There will be no sabbath time. Jesus knows they need sabbath time, but what about the crowd? Jesus sees them and he has compassion on them for they are like sheep without a shepherd and he teaches them many things. Then they are fed with a few simple loaves and fishes. After Jesus teaches them he feeds them.
Jesus sends the disciples back to the other side of the lake. He dismisses the crowd. Then Jesus goes off to, guess what, a deserted place to pray. After praying, Jesus walks across the sea intending to pass by their boat. They are alarmed and think they see a ghost. Jesus reassures them and they land on the other side to, guess what, another crowd. There must have been a series of epidemics in the Galilee area for Jesus heals many, many people. Remember, it is sparsely populated. They do not yet have paper cuts.
The people are as lost sheep in Jesus’ time as they were in Jeremiah’s time. In both eras, they are under military occupation. They are poor. They have no direction, because their leaders, the priests, are in league with the occupiers. The priests don’t want their positions of authority taken away from them.
How is Jesus being the good, faithful, and righteous, descendant of David, the shepherd that Jeremiah foretold? Jesus cared more about the people than the political and religious institutions. Jesus had compassion for them. Even when Jesus and the disciples desperately needed rest, Jesus saw to the spiritual and physical needs of the people. Jesus taught, fed, and healed.
Jesus’ literal name is Joshua, not Hezekiah. Joshua means either Yahweh is his help or Yahweh the Savior. Yet it is Jesus who tells people how to seek righteousness. And the basis for righteousness is love.
The Good Shepherd loves his sheep. We are Jesus’ sheep. If we ever feel we are lost, look to Jesus and the gospel for direction. Love of God and love of others will always guide us to follow Jesus. That must be why the crowds followed Jesus. They knew they were lost and they knew Jesus was the key to getting found.
Were they looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Romans? I doubt it. They wanted to be taught. They wanted to be healed. They wanted to be fed. They wanted to find their way. No one wants to be lost. It is an extremely anxious feeling. Jesus gives us the clear direction of love. In love, we can find our way. In love, we can find those who are lost and bring them to safety.
Text: Jeremiah 23:1–6 And Mark 6:30–34, 53–56