SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
It would be almost too easy to use the words of our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah to criticize the leadership of some in our church and in our country. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds…. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they no longer fear and tremble, and none shall be missing, says the Lord.” Okay God! We’re waiting!
All of our First Testament prophets remind us that one of God’s key attributes is justice, and Jeremiah is no exception. So integral is the concept of justice to who God is, that Jeremiah goes so far as to name God justice. “This is the name they give him: The Lord our justice.” We cannot understand who God is and what God desires for the world he created without recognizing the appropriateness of naming God justice. The comforting words extended to His people through the prophet reassures them that where there is no justice God will put justice, and He will do that by appointing shepherds, and leaders who will “govern wisely,” and “do what is right and just.” While God’s plan for the world might sometimes be postponed, it will never be thwarted. Yes, it would be easy, with the help of Jeremiah, to criticize or own shepherds and leaders, but spending too much time doing that might keep us from recognizing our responsibilities as sheep, for that is truly the better purpose of today’s liturgy.
We are the sheep of our Good Shepherd, and as such we are meant to exemplify the justice demonstrated by our one, true Shepherd. Not unlike Jeremiah and the prophets, Jesus spent his brief earthly ministry preaching God’s word, and the sharper edge of that preaching included calling out the unjust and merciless leaders of his day, both civil and religious. There were bad and unjust shepherds in Jesus’ day, and the Lord’s shaming of them was meant to make it clear to the sheep how they were supposed to behave.
As Jesus lived, and taught, and loved, so the disciple was to live, and that would include sometimes calling the least just leaders of our world to task. To overlook this responsibility is for us to act “like sheep without a shepherd.” The presence of injustice in our world demands that we, like Jesus, teach the world “many things,” sharing with others what Jesus shared with us during his earthly ministry. As Ephesians reminds us, Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” The ministry of Jesus tore down the walls that divided Jew and Gentile. It reached out to the poor and marginalized. It attracted saints and sinners. It healed the broken in heart and body. Jesus brought justice to a world in need of justice, and our shepherd counts on us to do the same.
May we never be “like sheep without a shepherd.” May the Good Shepherd be so present in our lives that all that we say and do may truly reflect what Jesus taught us to do.
Loving Lord, thank you for the wonderful example of your life,
which was lived in Spirit and Truth – a life that demonstrated love
as well as justice – a life that cared for all humanity,
especially those that are weak or hurting or marginalized –
or those that are sinking into a pit of despair or poverty.
May we become your eyes and ears, and may your heart of love and grace flow through us to all those in need. Look down in pity
on all who are suffering loss, poverty or unjust discrimination at
this time – and we pray that in your best time your justice will
prevail in each of their lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name.