July 19, 2015

July 19, 2015

I think one of the most beloved images of God is that of a shepherd.  In our readings today, we hear clearly that the Lord is our true and good shepherd, our true and good leader.  But in a particular way, this comes in the context of criticism of other leadership. 


In biblical times, the rulers of the People of Israel included having the role of shepherd, and of being a religious leader as well.  Yet as we hear through the prophet Jeremiah, God isn’t too pleased when they don’t fulfill this role: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture…You have not cared for them.”  While the mission of Israel was to gather all the nations to the Lord, their leaders allowed them to be scattered and put into exile.  So God says, “I will gather my people.”


In the Gospel, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved for the people who flocked to Him because “they were like sheep without a shepherd,” that is, without any meaningful leadership or guidance.  What comes right before this passage is the story of King Herod and John the Baptist.  John was in prison because he told Herod that it wasn’t right that he marry his brother’s wife.  (It’s interesting that Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist speak.  Even though he didn’t like what he heard, the truth that John spoke touched on something in his heart and soul, and he couldn’t stop listening.) 


Still, Herod’s wife Herodias looked to take John out.  At a party one night, Herod’s stepdaughter does this dance that amuses him so much that he’s willing to give her whatever she wants [which, let’s be honest, is kinda creepy].  And what’s even creepier is that she allows her mother to talk her into asking for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Herod knows that’s not right, but he’s more concerned about saving face and sticking with a wine-fueled oath that he foolishly made.  This is the guy who’s in charge!  This is their leader!  And so it’s really no surprise, then, that all these people are flocking to Jesus and His Apostles who have been driving out demons, healing the sick, and preaching conversion to a new relationship with God.


In our own day, we may very well consider ourselves to be in a time of upheaval and crisis: terrorism at home and abroad, ongoing economic uncertainty, troubles with marriage and family life, threats to religious and other liberties, and so on.  Because of that, people are looking even more for leadership and answers and purpose and meaning.  And they should.  Yet, while governments are responsible for certain things, we must remember that the real and only Savior of the world is Jesus Christ, who is “the way and the truth and the life.”  Unity and reconciliation and peace and justice are found in Christ, in His Cross and Resurrection, and God is the One to make it all happen. 


In the end, people are going to let us down, and they’ll never be able to truly touch what is at the depth of ours hearts and souls.  We were all made for more than society can give us.


A few years back, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical letter on social issues called Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).  The point of the encyclical was not to spell out technical solutions to complex problems in the world or cross over too much into politics, but to propose ethical and moral guidelines and motivations, and to remind us that humanity’s destiny is found in God and that God must have a place in human and social development.  Like the vast crowd in the Gospel, we must seek out Christ and learn from Him.  Certainly Christ is the perfect model of charity, of complete self-giving love, in which is found true righteousness (which means being in right relationship). 


Toward the end of the encyclical, Pope Benedict reminds us, “Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is. In the face of the enormous problems surrounding the development of peoples, which almost make us yield to discouragement, we find solace in the sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ, who teaches us: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (Jn 15:5) and then encourages us: ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Mt 28:20).” [CV 78]  And he says, “even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God's love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace.” [CV 79] 


As we come to encounter Jesus, who is the fulfillment of our hopes, may we look to Him as our true and good leader and shepherd, and follow in His ways more and more, for He is “the Lord our justice.”