Homily 16th Sunday of Year B: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18 and Mark 6:30-34
Christ, Our Peace and Shepherd of the Remnants,
As reflected in the scriptures, today we celebrate Christ our Peace and Shepherd of the Remnant (CPSR). This is a theme well captured in the Psalm just chanted, Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” A Shepherd like Moses, a Shepherd like Joshua in the desert, in the wilderness (Num 27:17). We are the sheep, all of us gathered, here, our families, the church; we are the remnants, of that renewed Israel.
The “remnants” through out the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the Old and the New Testaments, especially in the prophetic books are nothing more than the poor, the anawim, the dalim, the humble of the land, the faithful ones (rich and poor, privileged and the less- privileged, kings and the subjects), those who rejects idolatry, those who survives the wilderness, the exile, those who resists the devils, those who fight back temptations, rely on the saving and shepherding power of God at all times, those who are obedient and strive to do what the Lord expects of them; exemplary living, and attentive to the teachings of the prophets, like Jeremiah, in the first reading.
It is true that when Jeremiah says in the 1st reading “I will gather the remnant of my flock and appoint shepherd for them,” he is/ or was not prophesying out of the cloud. Judah was threatened by the warlords of Babylonian military, swept into the pains of exile, while the Kings like Jehoiakim, Zedekiah and other appointed officials, the leaders, those who were appointed to shepherd the people cared less, and showed not even a single good example. If they were not looking after themselves, they were disobedient to God, who spoke to them through the prophets. They were timid, idolatrous, negligent, and selfish.
One other text close to the 1st reading which I would like to draw your attention to is Prophet Ezekiel 34:1-5. He says, “…woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather pastures sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatling, but the sheep you have not pastured. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the injured nor seek the lost, but you lord it over them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of shepherds, and became food for all the wild beasts… (cf Num 27:17).”
But if you read down verses 11-16 of the same text of Ezekiel 34 you will see what God, the Good Shepherd will do for his sheep personally, which Jeremiah in the first reading also insisted. God will not only punish evil deeds of the bad shepherds of Israel, but He will look after his sheep. He will gather the remnant of his flock from wherever they may have been scattered! Prosperity and peace will be theirs under the guidance of the new Good and Righteous Shepherd, from the tribe of David whom the Lord had promised eternal dynasty in 2 Samuel 7(cf. ps 132; Chro 34:23).
This new Good Shepherd is Christ, an exemplary leader, who declared in the 4th Gospel, John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd; a Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep” (v12). A Good Shepherd has sympathy and empathy for his flock at all times. This is quite true in the example Christ has set in today’s gospel. It does not matter whether Christ was resting or not, Like Moses he had pity on the needy multitude, in the wilderness, in the deserted place, in the valley of darkness. He sheltered them with his kindness, fed them with his compassion, with love and words of peace!
St. Paul acknowledges this and says in the 2nd reading (Eph 2:13-18), “In Jesus Christ you who once were far off have become near…. For he is our peace, he who made both one, and broke down the dividing wall of enmity…through the cross….”
Each of us is called to be good shepherds to our neighbors and to be exemplary leaders in our various positions of leadership: home, church, companies and in the society as whole. We are called to imitate Christ and be our brothers and sisters keepers in every where, and at all times, in this desert of life, as Moses and Joshua had done in the wilderness. We are called to do this with sympathy and empathy for one another, young and old, our seniors and particularly the poor and the sick.
This means we are called to be agents of peace. Remember, peace here, “shalom” is all about our entire well-being. It touches on our businesses, jobs, prosperity, good health, happy marriages, happy friendship, and happy family circles. Happiness in our places of jobs; peaceful and society or world without war and terrorism, perfect leaders, kings and politicians, good economy, where everybody is insured medically and our kids and students successful always in their exams, and no student loans! No valley of darkness! No desert! No illness, no sickness, no betrayal and disappointment!
We know this is not always the case. There would always be challenges, valleys of darkness, and deserts of life, illnesses, joblessness, division and unnecessary enmity and even loss of loved ones! But as the psalmist would put it today, even though we find ourselves in any valley of darkness, as remnants and as leaders, let us know that Christ, our Peace and Shepherd of each of us, the Remnant (CPSR), would always be there on our sides.