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Homily, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shepherds after the heart of the Lord

16th SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B -- Msgr. Joseph Ntuwa, July 18, 2021

Jer. 23:1-6; Eph.  2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

The familiar image of the Good Shepherd pervades our readings today. In both the first reading and the Gospel, we see the effects of poor shepherding. Jeremiah contrasts the shepherds the Lord condemns with the ones whom the Lord will provide. The uncaring shepherds scatter the flock and drive them away.  And in the Gospel, Jesus sees the vast crowd and is full of compassion for them – his heart was moved with pity – because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter my flock!" laments Jeremiah about religious leaders of his time, around the year 600 B.C. In today’s digital world, one does not have to be part of the clergy to mislead and scatter. We are surrounded by many competing voices. There is rarely a moment within our lives that someone or something isn’t calling out to us and ask for our attention. And each voice has its own cadence and message. Some voices invite us in, promising us life if we do this or that or buy a certain product or idea; others threaten us. Some voices beckon us towards hatred, bitterness, and anger, while others challenge us towards love, graciousness, and forgiveness. Some voices tell us that they are playful and humorous, not to be taken seriously, while others trumpet that they are urgent and weighty, the voice of non-negotiable truth, God’s voice.

That leads to critical questions: How are we to determine who among all the competitors for attention are the good shepherds?  How do we recognize God’s voice among and within all competing voices?

Today’s responsorial psalm offers some guidance. Psalm 23, one of the most popular Psalms begins, "The Lord is my shepherd." Immediately, it gives us some definite hints about how to recognize a good shepherd. First, it indicates that good shepherds lead us to green pastures and restful waters — places that offer the rare combination of bountiful possibilities and genuine peace. These are places where people feel confident that God's world can provide generous plenty for everyone. At the same time, our psalmist admits that God's bounty and protection do not assure the absence of strife. The psalm reminds us that the right path often winds through dark valleys, but our divine shepherd remains with us, giving us the courage necessary to stare down evil.  Halfway through our psalm, the image changes; the shepherd/lord becomes a servant or hostess.  In the images of this part of the psalm, God sets a lavish table for us, a generous feast that begs to be enjoyed by a crowd of partygoers. Those partaking of the benevolence of this table are also anointed, first as guests, then as people co-missioned to mark out the "right path," the way that welcomes others to the scenes already described in this song of joy.

The short Gospel reading from Mark is the introduction to the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes, which we will hear next Sunday. It focuses on how Jesus' awareness of people's needs led him to respond as a Good Shepherd who would reveal God's generous plenty. When we listen to this in conjunction with Jeremiah's message and Psalm 23, we are led to discern about how we are called to respond to the great needs of our time. One of the greatest needs of our times is the healing of the divisions that mark our church and world. Pope Francis warns us in his Encyclical, On Fraternity and Social Friendship; "Unless we recover the shared passion to create a community ... our energy and our resources ... will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness" (Fratelli Tutti, 36).

As followers of Christ the Good Shepherd, we must remember that the invitation to repose by restful waters is for refreshment is not permanent residence. We are invited to the banquet that nourishes us and are anointed to spread the goodness and kindness we have learned. Mark invites us to look at our world the way Jesus looked at his: to feel the needs of our people and to respond in whatever way we are able. Given the divided state of our church, country, and world, we cannot claim to be followers of the Good Shepherd unless we continue his work of tending the scattered flocks of which we are a part.

May the love of the Father, the reconciling peace of the Son, and the igniting fire of the Holy Spirit be the strength for us all. Those rooted in the Holy Trinity are truly shepherds after the heart of the Lord.

 

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