HOMILY FOR THE 16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Readings: Jer. 23:1-6/Eph. 2:13-18
Gospel: Mk. 6:30-34
When we were young, we always had that desire to be free from under our parents’ rules. We try to say it was for one reason or another, but mostly it was because we thought their rules were not fair for us to live by. We were not disobeying our mom and dad, but there are times that what we did or said shocked them so much that it triggered the biggest unwritten rule: We did something that would cause a phone call from the cops. These particular acts are listed in the “super-secret” rule book that parents have in the back of their minds that they bring out whenever we do “something stupid.” What is deemed stupid is decided by the parents; we could not appeal that decision no matter how much we tried. The lessons we learn as children stays with us as we slowly move into maturity.
The readings we heard today display a singular concept that is not only common in scriptures but also in our lives. It is the image of the Shepherd. It was the shepherds that went to the Christ child in Bethlehem. It is the shepherd that celebrates with his friends when he finds the one lost sheep in a herd of 100. And it is the shepherd that stays with his sheep rather than leaving them to the elements. It is this image that we equate to Jesus, for he said “I am the Good Shepherd.” We see the shepherd as a symbol of peace and safety in a world of hatred and despair. It is the image of the Shepherd that parents try to emulate themselves with their children. And it is this image-the image of the Shepherd-that we desire in our world now more than ever.
Something happens to us when we move from our parents and live on our own. Each decision that we make or each item we buy or every person we associate ourselves with is precursor by a voice in our head that sounds very familiar. We listen to that voice more than we think that we would. The actions we take after hearing that voice will cause us to find either satisfaction or despair. That voice that we hear is the Voice of the Shepherd. It is the voice that calls us to be aware of our surroundings and points us to do the right thing. Even during those times we want to extend ourselves, it is the Voice of the Shepherd that still guides us and advises us the best way to go about it. As we mature, that voice may lessen in our decisions based on our own experience. But we can never say that we ever truly walk away from the Voice that has guided us from the moment we were formed in our mother’s womb.
In their desire to hear the Voice of the Shepherd, the vast crowds followed Jesus and his apostles as they returned home. They got into a boat to go someplace and talk amongst themselves about their adventures and get some well-needed rest. The twelve had just returned from their journeys to the outlying areas proclaiming the Good News and driving out unclean spirits. All they wanted to do was to rest, get something to eat and tell each other what they did on the road. When the boat made it to shore, the people were already there waiting for them. Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. He felt for them, and rather than leaving them on shore, he continued his work on earth and ministered to them. What Jesus had planned was a quiet moment with his friends. What it became was another moment for the Good News to come to those who desire it.
As those who ran to meet Jesus on the shore, we, too, desire to hear the Good News of God. For we, too, are the sheep following the Voice of the Shepherd. We yearn for that voice in our minds and hearts to guide us in our lives. And yet in modern times that voice is harder and harder to hear. It may even be so hard that at times we think that voice has gone silent. It is a sobering experience. That guide that had helped us decide what is right or wrong appeared to abandon that space in our head where we had thought it was. So we begin to ask ourselves “What happened to that voice and where can I find it again?”
When sheep are lost, they still search for the Voice of the Shepherd. That search for, and that desire for, the Good Shepherd is what makes us the sheep that is in the Shepherds care. When we think we cannot hear it, we struggle to find it in other places. So we begin to look for that voice not where it began-our family and our faith-but where we think it may have gone. We will go back to the things that we have done or read or said that we remember where that voice was connected to when we last heard that voice. Unfortunately, we do not find that voice there. So we go outward to other sources trying to find some familiar thread that we could recall what the Voice had said.
It is at those moments, when we are at our most vulnerable, that thieves come and try to steal us from the Voice of the Shepherd. They will do whatever they can to lead us away, even to the point to say that they are doing the work of the Shepherd. They will say the right things and do the right things to lure the sheep away from the Shepherd to the point where the voice they hear is no longer the true Voice of the Shepherd, but an imposter.
In our society today, that work to separate the sheep from the Shepherd is often done within the concept of Mass Communication. We want to know the facts of an issue, so we look to those sources we have been familiar with: local newspapers and radio and television. But we have a desire to know more than what we see. We want to be “on the inside” as it were so we can know something before anyone else. That is where the false shepherds come in. They will use that desire for intellectual advantage against us and spread innuendo and exaggeration as facts and evidence to lure us away from the Shepherd. What is worse, when we start to pass on that information to others without proper verification, we pass on those “alternative facts” or “fake news” to others as if we are the originators of the message. We become the false shepherd to the herd because we became the agent of the true false shepherd.
Much like how Peter denied Jesus three times, we deny the Voice of the Shepherd-the work of God-in those deceptive works. These works are the ones that Jeremiah exposed when he cried out to the shepherds that had scattered God’s flock, his people, to the ends of the earth. “Woe to the shepherds,” said Jeremiah, “who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.” They were punished for their deeds. But God also promised that new shepherds of his choosing will come and bring the flock back together to the meadow where they will increase and multiply.
We as the sheep are beholden to listen to the Voice of the Shepherd. It is the responsibility of the Shepherd to find his sheep, keep them together and make sure of their well-being. When we are together in thought, word and deed, then we are in the place that the Psalmist proclaimed today: “In verdant pastures he gives me repose. Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” We want to be the Shepherd, the voice of our own reason, but unless we understand how to be the sheep, our voice in meaningless. When we listen to the true Voice of the Shepherd, then our voice has meaning. For it is in the pasture of the Shepherd, the house of the Lord, can we find peace and understanding in a world of chaos and confusion. For with the Lord as our shepherd “Only goodness and kindness will follow all the days of our lives and allow us to dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” Today, let us return to hear the Voice of the Shepherd so we can be his voice for those who come after us.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK