“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD… You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them” (Jer 23:1-2).
The shepherds that Jeremiah spoke about in our first reading were the five kings that Jeremiah consistently called to task during the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Each of these leaders were more corrupt than the next. More and more they looked after their own interests and welfare and less and less they sought to provide care and support for their people.
Jeremiah not only spoke truth to power he also prophesied:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David” (Jer 23:5).
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is that righteous shoot. He is the Shepherd that has been caring for his sheep for generations up to this day. Jesus is also the one who the Psalmist sings of:
“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage” (Psalm 23:4).
In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus gathered his apostles together and lead them off to a quiet place for rest, but once they arrived at their location and disembarked from their boat, Jesus “saw the vast crowd, [and] his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34).
I invite you to imagine for a moment, that Jesus disembarks today on the shores of America. If he is allowed to enter, who does he encounter? Unfortunately, he will meet two thousand plus unborn whose lives have been cut short today, almost a hundred citizens killed by gun violence today, an unknown number of immigrant children who still have not been reunited with their families. He will also walk among thousands affected by human trafficking, domestic violence, discrimination, racism, sexism, and addiction, hundreds of thousands of homeless, millions without access to healthcare and gainful employment. Jesus weeps because of the level of indifference and rationalization, the widening gap between the rich and poor, and his heart aches as he witnesses the gathering darkness of polarization and division.
May we too have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the suffering of our brothers and sisters. It is time for us as Christians to remember who we are. We are an Alleluia people, we are a people of hope and joy because we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. We just need to remember who our Shepherd is.
St. Paul knew his shepherd and wrote to the Church at Ephesus and he speaks to us right now:
Jesus is our peace, he who made both ONE and broke down the dividing wall of enmity.
Our starting place is to acknowledge where we contribute to building walls of enmity or hatred between ourselves and others. Instead of projecting our fears, anxieties, biases, and prejudices out toward one another, Jesus shines a light for us, to help us to see within our own darkness, to identify the roots of our sin growing deep within us, so that we can confess them to God and one another and uproot them.
Jesus commands us to love, to will the good of the other as other. We are better able to do so when we are willing to die to our own ego, our own self-centered, fallen nature and instead collaborate with Jesus in his work of redemption, to establish peace, and with God, in one body, through the cross, tear down the walls of division that have been suffocating us.
Christianity is not a private club for the select few. Jesus’ message of the Gospel is an invitation for ALL PEOPLE to share in the oneness of a relationship with the Trinitarian communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God, in giving us life, has created us each unique and we as the Church are at our best when we embrace the gift of our diversity.
The challenges of a culture of death and division that poison our country and world can be countered, if all of us are willing to work together. How do we meet the myriad of challenges that are before us?
The best way we can begin to bring about effective change, is that we first, need to resist making ourselves, our family, groups, political affiliations, president, the flag, and/or nation into our idols. For when we place our identity solely in anything other than God we will go astray. When we put God first, develop and deepen our relationship with him, learn about and live his teachings in our daily lives, we will begin again to see each other through God’s eyes, so to see people not as other, but as human beings created in his image and likeness.
When we are less governed by protecting the group and seeing the dignity of the person, we will be less apt to belittle, demean, dehumanize, and demonize those who are different as well as those who have opposing views and perspectives. We can be more open to engage in dialogue, instead of shouting at or over each other. We can be more open to share our diverse ideas, talents, cultures, and perspectives, so to learn from one another, stand up for and empower one another.
Second, we must make the time to pray and be still so to discern what is the gift that God has given each of us to contribute to building up his kingdom. Each one of us, has something to bring to the table, because each of us are loved by God more than we can ever imagine. When we engage ourselves in whatever challenge we face, no matter the situation in which we are called to serve, we are to bring the love that we have received in our own unique way and allow God to be God through us.
Third, we need to trust in Jesus. When anxieties and fears arise, it is a barometer that we are not trusting in the love and power of God.
I understand this very well. Much preferring to stay in my own world, I have struggled often with the fear of going out from myself. Speaking publicly in my youth was not even an option. When I was a child my father introduced me once as, “This is my son, he doesn’t talk.” The first time I read from the ambo as a lector, my legs shook the whole time. I have felt the urge, too many times, to reach out and help another, was instead indecisive and the moment passed where I did nothing. Each day I seek God’s help to do better, to not give in to my fears, but instead trust in the Good Shepherd who has remained by my side and who has led me to be a husband, father, teacher, and deacon and even now a widower and recoverer from Covid/pneumonia.
Finally, we need to, in the words of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, “be God’s microphone”. We are called to speak truth to power, to speak and act on behalf of the dignity of those for whom we witness being belittled, demeaned, disrespected, or dehumanized in any way.
As followers of Jesus the Christ we need to be willing to stand up for one another, for God’s creatures and his creation. When we begin to act and speak as God’s microphone, and the first experiences of anxiety and fear attempt to silence us, we need to call on the power of the Holy Spirit and he will give us the courage and the words to speak. Even if Satan himself stands before us, the weakest Christian is stronger. For all we need to say is, “In the name of Jesus, get behind me Satan.” And through the power of his name, the devil must flee.
Jesus walks among us as our Shepherd and preaches peace to us who are far off, who are polarized, and divided. He promises that through him we all have access to the love of his Father. May we remember who we are called to be by remaining open, minds and hearts, to the love of the Holy Spirit moving through us and refuse to contribute to building walls of hatred and division and instead commit our lives to put God first by praying and discerning how best we will serve him and each other.
May we trust that Jesus is with us to comfort and heal us even in our darkest moments. May our focus also be drawn outward beyond ourselves to seek the courage of the Holy Spirit to be God’s microphone, speaking and acting on behalf of a consistent ethic of life for all of humanity at every stage of life and for all of God’s creation. This will be done in our own unique way and in our own corner of the world, person to person.
We are good shepherds when we are open and aware of how and when we can be light in the darkness of division; hope for those in despair; offer a smile of acceptance and welcome; provide for someone’s basic needs, an understanding ear to hear, a kind word of encouragement, and a loving shoulder to lean on for someone in need today.
Photo: Jesus in the Breadline, woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg