Homily (2) 16th Sunday Year B: Fr. Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18 and Mark 6:30-34
Imitating the Heart of Christ, Our Good Shepherd
Because of the constant repetition of the theme of the “Good Shepherd” in the readings of today, some preachers or pastors have simply titled today, “the Good Shepherd Sunday.” I have no problem with that provided it brings us to the heart of the message of Christ as a true and exemplary teacher, leader, prophet, a kind hearted high priest, a good shepherd, who is truly compassionate and merciful to everyone.
He is the one long- metaphorically foretold by the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading. Here, Jeremiah prophesied that Lord will replace Israel’s kings and bad leaders with Christ, his true shepherd from the tribe of David when the time comes. First of all, the Israelites, including Jeremiah like any other people from ancient near eastern culture expected their leaders and followers to learn from ordinary shepherds, Bedouins and their flocks. Natural good shepherds in ancient near east are courageous, caring, selfless, tender hearted, and protective of their flocks. They lead them to the fields and wadis for food and water. They love and know each other. They are communicative and familiar with one another. And the flocks obeys and listen to the signs, language and directive of their master and good shepherds who care and love them.
The Bad shepherds are, idolatrous, destructive and exploitative to the flocks/subjects/followers, which/whose lives they negligibly risk and abuse. For doing this, Jeremiah warns of the impending punishment– in forms of Jerusalem’s destruction and resulting exile in Babylon. But as for the repentant remnant the Lord will re-gather them under the armpit of his Son, Christ, the ideal Shepherd, spoken of in the writings of Saint Paul and particularly in the Gospels.
In John 10 he is the true shepherd whom the flocks are invited to listen. He is the true shepherd who knows his flock and his flock know and follow him. In today’s Gospel he is so kind and gentle with his disciples. He re-gathers them after the mission of which he sent them, for a pastoral feedback. He saw that they were tired after walking all over the vicinity of Galilee, Tiberias, Carpenaum, Magadla, Kursi, and Bethsaida, teaching, healing and curing diseases. He is so concern for their peace, shalom and wellbeing that Saint Paul talks about in today’s 2nd reading. With this concern Christ recommends that they take a rest—only to be constantly approached by such a great multitude that they hadn’t the opportunity to eat, as the Lord would have wanted.
Christ's love and care has no boundary. His shepherding is not limited to the Twelve. They are extended to the multitude of today’s gospel. He cares for them. He loves them. When he disembarked from the boat he showed enormous pity and love for the waiting followers. Evangelist Mark so well captures the depth of this love when he says, Christ’s heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like a sheep without a good shepherd.
Such communicative heart of a true good shepherd is what is expected of not only our civil and ecclesiastical leaders, but of their subjects, members of the church and religious communities today. Taking a lesson from Christ, one wonders how many of our leaders today- demand a pastoral accountability, show love, peace, and concern for those whom they have sent on mission or assigned civil and pastoral responsibility? Even in our families, parental leadership are expected of our parents after the manner of Christ. Filial responds of listening love, faith and obedience after the manner of the faithful remnant are expected of not only our children, but members of the church, flocks and subjects of various communities and organizations.
Remember, it was to the docile, listening crowed or multitude of men, and woman, children and adult, that Jesus pitied and taught many things in today’s Gospel. And if Christ had first loved and pitied us even onto the cross, we are constantly invited– the kings and non- kings, leaders and their followers to be compassionate and merciful to our neighbors, especially the less privileged, who are increasingly becoming the center piece of Pope Francis’ papacy!