Homily: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B
Friends, these last couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about prophets, centering our reflections around their call to prophesy: the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel and Amos, and the New Testament prophets (those we also call Evangelists), the Apostles. This week we hear from another prophet, the prophet Jeremiah, but our focus today is more on his message.
Jeremiah’s message is a message of warning to the leaders of God’s people. He is warning them because, instead of leading God’s people in right worship and moral conduct, they had been leading them into worship of false gods and had allowed moral depravity. This was terrible because the leaders of God’s people were anointed to be more than just “governors”—meant to help maintain order in civil life. Rather, they were shepherds—meant to lead God’s people in the ways of right living and to keep them from falling into sin.
Ultimately, they were supposed to be shepherds who model God’s own shepherding. And where do we find an image of God’s own shepherding? Today’s Psalm, Psalm 23, is a psalm of God’s shepherding. Psalm 23 was written by King David, who was a shepherd before he was made king. He shepherded God’s people rightly (in spite of his numerous failings throughout the years). In fact, God chose him to be the shepherd-king of his people because (the Scriptures tell us) he was a “man after God’s own heart”. King David, therefore, understood God’s shepherding. He wrote this psalm, which describes not only God’s shepherding, but also the goal of his shepherding. It describes that the goal of God’s shepherding is to shepherd his people to a place of rest: a place in which it is safe, tranquil, and in which his people can flourish in abundance. In this, we should hear an echo of the book of Genesis in which God rests after all his labors and in Exodus in which he commands his people to observe the day of rest (that is, the Sabbath). We should also hear an echo of the voice of Jesus who said, in criticism of the Pharisees who made the Sabbath rest a thing of burden for God’s people: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” All in all, the message of Psalm 23 is that God’s shepherding leads mankind to a place of perfect rest.
Thus, Jeremiah’s critique: the leaders of God’s people were not leading them to rest and flourishing, but rather into greater labor and turmoil. God, therefore, completely frustrated with the leaders of his people, says to these leaders (and, thus, to his people): “I myself will gather them and appoint a shepherd who will lead them into my rest.” The prophet tells us that this newly appointed leader will be a “righteous shoot of David” (God’s true shepherd-king) who will be a model of right worship and of moral conduct for God’s people. Through his shepherding, peace—that is, shalom (or rest)—would be restored to God’s chosen people: a model of the eternal peace that God will usher in at the end of time.
Perhaps, however, the people didn’t expect that it would be God himself who would come as a descendant of King David to shepherd his people. Nonetheless, that is exactly what happened. In today’s Gospel reading, we saw God Incarnate act as the true shepherd-king whom he predicted would come.
In the reading, we heard how the Apostles returned to Jesus after completing their mission to proclaim the Gospel in various towns of Israel and Judah; and how Jesus, seeing them tired from their labors, invites them away to rest a while. As they go, however, the restless people, who have been longing for a true shepherd, follow them. When he sees them, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was “moved with pity” for them, “for they were like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus came to shepherd God’s people into rest—that is, into true shalom (or peace)—and so he cannot turn away from them in their restlessness. Here we see what Saint Paul described in his letter to the Ephesians, which we heard in our second reading: “He came and preached peace (that is, shalom) to those who were far off and peace to those who were near…”
Friends, Jesus is the Emmanuel—God with us—who has come to us to shepherd us into God’s Sabbath—that is, his rest. This is important for us to acknowledge today because, for more than half a century, we’ve allowed the secular world to shepherd us: and it has shepherded us wrongly. Don’t believe me? Look around. By my observation, people today are more restless than ever: and I’m not talking just about being too busy; rather, I’m talking about a loss of psychological, emotional, and spiritual stability.
And so, what is the answer? Well, the answer is to return to Christ and to allow him to shepherd us rightly into the rest—that is, the shalom (or peace)—that he wants for us. To do this, we need to allow the Church, led by Christ’s Vicar, the Pope, and the successors to the Apostles, the Bishops, to lead us. For example, statistics have shown that couples who conform themselves to the teachings of the Church regarding marriage and sexual intercourse have happier and more stable marriages; and that children who come from homes in which the faith is taught and practiced by both parents (fathers, especially) lead more stable and fulfilling lives. This, of course, is no guarantee of peace and stability—our human weaknesses always must be accounted for—but social science testifies that allowing Christ to shepherd us by following the Church’s teachings leads to greater psychological, emotional, and spiritual peace: both for individuals and for families.
This, of course, means that we need leaders in the Church who, like King David, are men “after the heart of God”. Over the last half-century, too many bishops and priests have been more like the leaders who the prophet Jeremiah denounced than they have been like Christ, the Good Shepherd, who leads his people into God’s rest. Being a true shepherd in today’s world is difficult and so we must pray for and encourage our bishops and priests, even as we seek them out and demand that they care for us, as Christ cared for the people that followed him and his apostles that day. Together—the shepherds who strive to be conformed to the heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and the flock who strives to be faithful to true teaching—we will be a shining light of hope to the world that true peace (that is, shalom) may be found and that it is found in Christ, our Savior.
Friends, Christ is our Shepherd—Emmanuel, God with us—who has come to gather us: those who have been far away and those who are near, so that he can lead us into his rest. As we worship him here today in this Eucharist, let us allow him to shepherd us anew in our daily lives so that the peace (or shalom) that each of our hearts seek might be known; and that the world’s restlessness might be transformed into the peace of God’s kingdom.
Given in Spanish at St. Paul Parish: Marion, IN – July 17th, 2021
and St. Patrick Parish: Kokomo, IN – July 18th, 2021