Deacon Tom's Homily for July 22nd; Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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This week we pick up in the aftermath of Jesus having sent the apostles out on their mission after “giving them authority over unclean spirits.” They would surely be rejected by many and Jesus once emphasized the danger that the disciples will face when he said, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves[1].”

Now Jesus tells the Apostles they must rest; they need to be renewed in body, mind and spirit. So, he tells them they need to come away from the crowds because the response to the apostles has been overwhelming. People are so excited about what they are hearing and what they’re seeing, they don’t allow Jesus or the apostles to even take a break to get food.

So, what strikes me is that the early proclamation of The Good News of Jesus Christ was so incredible it made people not just talk about going to the event, but they wanted to go, to see to speak with the apostles.

Another point is that when Jesus sees these crowds he’s moved to compassion for them. His response is compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He’s alluding to prophecies in the Old Testament that depict the coming Shepherd Messiah not just as a prophet but as a shepherd who’s going to protect and feed them.

So, what does he do when he shows compassion on the crowds—he begins to teach them the truth, because he knows that’s what they are hungering for, that’s what they’re leaving their homes for. Because they want the truth—the Good News—the proclamation of the Gospel.

But what if today you were to say to someone “I want to tell you about the Good News of Jesus Christ”, what sort of a response would you receive. Some people would say they already know about it and quite frankly they find the Church boring, right? Their faith is lacking. They have passive knowledge—they recognize the Church and Christ—but they have no active knowledge of Christ and his love for them.

Although church involvement was once a cornerstone of American life, U.S. adults today are divided on the importance of attending church. In the early 1970s, those claiming no religion was around three percent, today it is close to 25 percent. And among the young, the figures are even more alarming: 40 percent of those under 40 have no religious affiliation, and fully 50 percent of Catholics under 40 claim to be “nones”, or the religiously unaffiliated For every one person who joins the Catholic Church today, roughly six are leaving.

So, if that is the case, if people today respond to the gospel with apathy, it makes you wonder what’s the difference between the Gospel the apostles were preaching and the gospel as it’s preached today. If we’re giving the same fullness of truth today, we should be getting the same responses that people were having in the first century.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There will always be people who reject the Good News. This happened to Christ in his hometown of Nazareth and eventually he was crucified. But by and large the response to the Gospel was excitement, interest and it drew massive crowds with just the apostles teaching. Think of this: at the beginning of the Church, there were no dioceses, no schools, no seminaries, and no parishes. But there were evangelists. For being a “Christian” is not about just “getting saved.” It’s about sharing in Christ’s anointing to transform the world. It is not just priests and religious who are supposed to make it happen. Every single one of us is called and anointed to become part of Christ’s missionary community.

So, in short, Jesus is being depicted as the Shepherd Messiah, who is a teaching Messiah. He is not just a priest, prophet or king, but a teacher as well, a shepherd who’s going to lead the people to the truth. And now we can see where our first reading fits in with the Gospel.

Here, the prophet, Jeremiah, who lived in the sixth century B.C., delivered both a warning and a promise to God’s people. He warned the bad shepherds of coming woe because they had misled and scattered God’s flock through their covenant unfaithfulness. The kings of Israel were supposed to be good “shepherds,” as the original shepherd-king, David, had been. The sinful kings cared only for their own welfare, neglecting the care of the sheep.

God, however, promised to “raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely.” Jesus knew he was that king. The leaderless people he saw in the Gospel reminded him of his mission. In his patient teaching and exhaustion, he fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy of a coming king who would “do what is right and just in the land.”

What Mark is doing today in the gospel reading is revealing to us that Christ is the long-awaited Shepherd Messiah and that the crowds of people who are coming to hear the apostles and to hear him preach are the scattered flock of God being gathered together once again. That’s why Jesus sees them with such compassion: he is moved to teach them the truth because for centuries they’ve lacked good shepherds, they lacked the one shepherd who was going to come and reunite them and bring them back to God, and that’s Christ himself.

As often happens in our epistle reading, these verses from St. Paul can seem unrelated to the theme of our other readings. However, we can best understand the relationship if we see that St. Paul is giving us an example of how Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Here we see that he has also done the miraculous work of bringing Jews and Gentiles together, by dying for all men. And our 23rd responsorial psalm acts as a bridge between the Old and the New Testament readings.

This familiar psalm praises the treasures of being a sheep in the Lord’s flock. It describes the kind of rest and security we can trust when we follow Jesus. In peaceful times of feeding in “verdant pastures,” in times of labor as we walk “in the dark valley,” and even when we are face-to-face with our enemies, the Lord’s kindness and mercy are unfailing. Perhaps the people in the eager, anxious crowd, like us, could sing, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

Today's scriptures remind us of the great task of pastoral leadership and challenges all of us to ask how we can make the task more effective. The command of Christ is to love one another as we have been loved and love will get you noticed if we love consistently and without reservation.

Even a chance encounter with a stranger affords us the opportunity to be friendly or generous or welcoming and although we might not see the result there is healing in a smile or a gesture of kindness. It’s time to get in our boats, so to speak, and cross to the other side, which today might mean the Ironwood neighborhood across the street. I wonder if anyone would recognize us as disciples of Christ if we walked through the area. 


[1] (Mt 10:16)