The 12 tribes of Israel followed Moses into the desert in the exodus. The 12 apostles followed Jesus into a deserted place as part of a new and definitive exodus. Jesus chose 12 apostles to say that he was gathering the 10 lost tribes of Israel and uniting them to the 2 tribes of Judah.
Jesus fulfills the prophesy of Jeremiah that God himself would gather “the remnant of the flock” (23:3). The 12 tribes of Israel who made it through the exodus later turned away from God. By the time Jeremiah is prophesying, 10 tribes had already been lost. The 2 that remained were about to be exiled to Babylon. But Jeremiah prophesied that there would come a son of David who would gather the 12 tribes and shepherd them and “none shall be missing” (23:4). Only the 2 tribes who were exiled came back still leaving 10 missing. Jeremiah’s prophesy was not fully fulfilled. God was preparing his people for a shepherd, who would offer himself for his sheep, and make all things new.
In gathering the 12 tribes in the 12 apostles, Jesus is fulfilling the desire of the Jewish people that God himself would shepherd his people. Jesus shepherds them through the shadow of death in a new exodus from the slavery of sin. Jesus the Divine Shepherd teaches and feeds us in this new exodus from sin and death just as God taught and fed the 12 tribes in the first exodus from Egypt.
Later in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, the prophet tells us that just as Moses mediated a covenant at Mount Sinai during the exodus, so there would be a new covenant. Jeremiah prophesies, “This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:33). How did Moses seal the covenant? He sprinkled the blood of animals on the people and the altar to signify that their life is united to the life of God (see Ex 24:4-8). They have a blood relationship. Jesus’ sprinkled blood says, “Father, I belong to you and your people belong to me.” St. Paul says that Jesus’ blood is our peace “that he might create in himself one new person in place of two” (Ep 2:15).
The heart of Jesus is moved with pity for us and he teaches us, feeds us, and he “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) making a new covenant with us. If we think of ourselves as scattered sheep before our baptism, St. Paul exclaims to us, “you who were far off have become near by the blood of Christ” (Ep 2:13).
Nearness with Jesus. This is the new promised land that the new Moses, Jesus brings us into by this new covenant. Nearness, intimacy with Jesus who brings us to his Father where together, they breathe on us the Holy Spirit.
Let me assure you, I don’t always feel near to Jesus but I try to follow him into the deserted place to be with him in prayer. At times I tell him, “I don’t feel near you. Shepherd me o God. I feel lost.” The Mass can be our deserted place with Jesus, a place of rest, a place of intimacy. Jesus wants to go deeper with us than just reading our status updates. He wants to hold us near.
When you are hugging someone whom your trust, you feel comfortable to relax. You nestle on their shoulder and breathe deeply. This is an intimate exchange. Allowing Jesus to hold us in his embrace in Holy Mass, we then learn how to do more than just speak to him information. Our hearts can beat out our thoughts, feelings, and desires like a spiritual Morse code and his Heart receives and interprets the code.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wants to draw ever nearer to us, to gather us to his heart. He invites us to draw nearer to him and allow his blood poured out for us at every Mass to become more and more our life blood in our exodus through this world.