16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
July 22, 2012
We all know what this means … what St. Paul refers to as “the dividing wall of enmity” is so real, so true, so rampant, even in our times. We see it in the media network wars. We see it in the battle of the giant retailers, and shopping malls. The one which “got it all for us,” obviously wins hands down, with a 44th poised to be built in a province that already boasts of two. We see it in the warring artificial “parties” in both houses of congress, and the equally artificial unity blocks born of convenience, rather than principle, of compromise, rather than moral conviction.
We are a divided nation and people. We are a great lesson on how not to run a country, and a telling icon of perpetual divisiveness and disunity.
But if the story that unfolds in the prophet Jeremiah’s book is an indication, then we ought to know that God is never happy with such a state of affairs. According to Jeremiah in today’s first reading, the Lord apparently has had enough of the leaders who misled, and shepherds who pastured themselves more than they did others.
More bad news, you say? You bet they are! More negative snapshots of our country and people for this week, you might contend? Yes … and this, not without reason … We live in the worst of times; but we also live in the best of times!
St. Paul, who suffered all sorts of pain and rejection knew it. Jeremiah, too, for all his bad news, also knew it. And this is what both today remind us so passionately, maybe even so definitely, and so confidently: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow!”
Today, we are told to hold on to our brightest hopes. Today, too, we are reminded to hold on to the mega-story of our lives as God’s people … how once we “were far off” from God, but now “have become near by the blood of Christ.”
We are all “saints” with a past and “sinners” with a future. We are more than just a developing nation, on the way to earning our rightful place in the league of developed and prosperous nations. We are a people of promise. We are a nation that is called to actualize what, right now, we can only pray for with fervent and undying hope: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”
Today, too, we are given a glimpse about how we need to deal with our successes and failures. The Gospel passage from Mark 6:30-34 tells us how the apostles “reported” to the Lord “all they had done and taught.” The key word is “all.” And “all,” here, presumably referred to both good and bad experiences; successes and failures; peaks and pitfalls; and events that were either memorable, or preferably, forgettable …
Having been a priest for almost 30 years now, I know whereof I speak. My experiences in the vineyard of the Lord, all I have done and taught were a merry mixture or tears and joy, happiness and sorrow; events that were both enabling and disabling; disarming and debilitating … Name it, we older priests, got it, most likely. We have been up there and down there in the doldrums. We have been praised to the skies, brought up to the dizzying heights of adulation, but we also have been downgraded to even humiliating depths of indifference on the part of others, and ineptitude, on our end.
I guess, if we are to be truthful to ourselves, there surely were times when we acted well our roles as shepherds, and times when we pastured ourselves more than we did others supposedly under our care. Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future!
Today, as we hear the apostles telling the Lord everything – good and bad; exciting and debilitating; enabling and disabling; all things honorable and all things dishonorable, we hear something about the future that we now are called to claim together, for, truth to tell too, we are all sinners trying to forge a future with God, with others, in a Church that is a community of saints and sinners!
The Lord apparently did not get either too excited, or too anxious about the disciples’ stories. The Lord did not miss a heartbeat as he heard them pour out their hearts. The Lord merely listened. Emphatically. Dutifully. Solicitously. For that is what the Good Shepherd is like.
He leads the disciples. He tells them what to do. He did not react to their sob and sad stories, and stories that they could not contain for sheer joy and excitement. He told them one simple thing, true to his form as one who “broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh” … “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Right now, even in my 3oth year, there’s lots of things to do for me. My hands are full teaching and preaching, writing and leading; evangelizing and shepherding. People literally and figuratively still “come in large numbers” expecting to be led to the right and true way.
And like unto my brother priests all over the country, I am convicted. I stand accused and guilty many a time in these past 30 years of not being a shepherd like unto him the true and Good Shepherd, worthy thereby of getting the tongue-lashing from Jeremiah, when he berated the “shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of [God’s] pasture.”
I beg apologies from you my flock. I ask pardon for the many times I did not play up to the expectations of both the Lord and you. And if, in the process, dividing walls of enmities sprung up between you and us, your shepherds, we both do as the Lord told his disciples … We both come away by ourselves at Mass here today, to rest a while, to reflect a little, and pray together in fervent hope. For at bottom, we were both, at one and the same time, and on occasion, counted among those who were far off, or among those who were near!
Pray with me. Pray for me. Pray together with us priests an intense prayer of hope for both you and me, and for all shepherds sent to pasture others … Let us claim what is already ours as promised by the Supreme Shepherd, who declared through Jeremiah that he will himself shepherd us: “The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want.” Indeed, nothing more shall I want!