Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, July 22, 2018:
By Fr. Scott Karnik
Today’s readings describe a shepherd. A shepherd is very important. A shepherd is so important that God says He will raise a shepherd to care for His Chosen People. He Himself will be that shepherd.
In Jeremiah, God says woe to the shepherds. These shepherds mislead and scatter the flock. God accuses Israel’s kings of being woeful shepherds. They were unfaithful to God and to their own people. They lead God’s Chosen People to worship the pagan gods of their Canaanite neighbors. The kings set up images of these false gods in God’s own Temple. God promises that He Himself will gather the remnant of His flock from all the lands to which they were driven. God promises to appoint shepherds, better shepherds, who will protect and account for every one of the people. “…none shall be missing,…” This speaks of universal salvation by a shepherd king who will succeed where the other Israelite kings have failed. God promises a messianic king will arise from King David’s lineage. He will rule with the justice of the Lord and fulfill all kingly ideals. This prophecy from Jeremiah and another one from Isaiah initiate Israel’s hopes for a Messiah. About 500 years later, their hopes are fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.
What does this GOOD Shepherd do? Psalm 23 says he feeds and leads the people to food and water. He cares for His people while the poor shepherds do not. The Good Shepherd’s leadership is so reliable and trustworthy that the psalmist is confident even when the paths are dark and treacherous. The Good Shepherd is always present. The Good Shepherd is close and ready to defend His flock. This Good Shepherd lavishes goodness and kindness on His flock, like a Kind Host would.
In the Gospel, Jesus intends to take His Apostles away to rest, after they complete their mission. They all go somewhere, but the crowd intercepts them. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, pities the crowd “for they were like sheep without a shepherd;…” So Jesus teaches the flock many things. Jesus does so because their needs are greater. They need nourishment and grace. It is God Himself who is doing this. The crowds were scattered, driven away, and uncared for. Jesus reverses this. Jesus Christ is the messianic shepherd prophesied in Jeremiah. Jesus’s teaching is a fulfillment of His messianic role. The Pharisees and Scribes had neglected their duties to guide and teach the people, just like the poor kings in the Old Testament days.
It is important to know what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us to. Jesus leads us to unity in Him, in His Body, and in His Mystical Body, the Church, this Church, which Jesus clearly established on the rock of St. Peter. St. Paul writes in today’s reading from his Letter to the Ephesians that the Gentiles are brought close to the covenant by Christ’s shedding of His Own Blood. Jesus unifies the relationship between Jews and Gentiles by the sacrifice of His Own Body on the Cross. So the Good Shepherd will lay down His Life for His sheep, to unite them. Jesus died on the Cross to eliminate the barrier of enmity between Jew and Gentile. Christ’s sacrifice of His Own Flesh abrogates the Law of commands and curses on transgressors. To abrogate means to repeal by authoritative action (Jesus’s Crucifixion). Jews and Gentiles are joined in one man, Jesus Christ. They are made one. Jesus preached the Good News to those who were close (Jews) and to those who were far off (Gentiles). Both Gentiles and Jews have access to the Father in one spirit. The “one body” St. Paul refers to means Jesus’s physical body, sacrificed on the Cross, and His Mystical Body, the Church, which consists of both Jews and Gentiles. Thanks to Jesus’s merits and propitiatory sacrifice, we are introduced into the presence of God the Father in one Holy Spirit. The bond of love and peace that unites Jesus and God His Father is the same bond of union for members of His Church.
Jesus is still here with us-in Eucharist, in Sacred Scripture, and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God cares for His people through His Son Jesus Christ in Eucharist. You will hear about that next week, in St. Mark’s Gospel. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is always present to His People. St. Mark hopes his readers will understand the meaning of all these events, including Jesus’s humiliating death on the Cross. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for His sheep, and enters into Eucharist, really, substantially, and truly, to continue the Good Shepherd’s care for us. It is Jesus Himself, God Himself, who gathers his lost sheep into the place where they belong, in the Church, in a state of sanctifying grace, and nourished by Word and Sacrament, to the extent that there are no barriers separating any of us anymore. There is only the Body of Christ, sacrificed and resurrected. We are one, underneath the loving care of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, in His Church.
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