Sunday Sermon for July 22, 2018, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34
In the first reading today God speaks a word of woe through the Prophet Jeremiah to the shepherds who mislead the Lord’s flock entrusted to their care. God says that these shepherds scattered the flock and drove them away and did not care for the flock. If we compare this to the condemnation of the wicked shepherds in Ezekiel, we can say these shepherds were selfish, caring for themselves and not for the sheep.
It is amazing that things have not changed over 2500 years of history. We are still plagued with shepherds who care more for themselves than for the flock. We have pastors who scatter the flock and even drive people away. This is done through pushing a political agenda instead of preaching the Gospel and by watering down the truth in order to be liked, get a larger collection, or make everyone feel welcome.
There is irony here when people are being driven away by what is supposed to make them feel welcome. However, between bad music, poor preaching, and infidelity to the liturgical texts and rubrics, people who want to be faithful Catholics are being driven away. It has always been true that people will pay to be entertained, but we have to remember that we are not at Mass to be entertained; we are there to give God fitting worship and praise.
God tells us through Jeremiah that He will raise up a righteous shoot to David, a king who will reign and govern wisely. This king will clearly be a shepherd because Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell in security. It might be tempting to think of this security and salvation as being external, but in this case we are speaking of something interior. Each person, knowing their Shepherd, will have interior peace and security and confidence in the salvation of their soul.
Everyone who experiences this knows it is not something of his or her own doing; rather, it comes only from the Lord. St. Paul addresses this in the second reading when he tells us Jesus is our peace Who has broken down the dividing wall of enmity, putting that enmity to death and reconciling us to God through His Cross. Jesus is the source of our peace, security, and salvation.
This same message about Jesus Who tears down the dividing wall is what brings unity in the Church. Jesus broke the wall that kept us from God, but St. Paul is speaking also on the human level. In its original context he is speaking of the division between Jews and Gentiles and how the death of our Lord brings both into unity. Within the Church, however, the only source of unity is Jesus Who is both Truth and Charity.
I recall an event where a Bishop spoke to a gathering of priests about the divisions among the priests. When another Bishop was asked what could be done to rectify the situation he simply said “We are all here in the same room.” That is like saying that everyone at the airport is united because they are all in the same building. Never mind the fact they are there to fly in many different directions; somehow we are supposed to assume they are all united because they are in the same place at the same time.
Needless to say, the fact that people arrive for Mass on Sunday morning does not automatically imply they believe the same things or that they even know why they are at Mass. Part of the problem is our failure to teach people the truth, part of the problem is people who think truth is relative and pick and choose what they want to believe is true, part of the problem is people of good will who lack understanding and try to fill in the gaps by making assumptions about what Catholics believe. Charity demands patience and kindness in our dealings with such people because they are not of ill will; they want the truth but it has not been taught to them.
This is what we see in the Gospel reading today when our Lord has pity for the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. For this reason, St. Mark tells us, He began to teach them. Real charity toward the people of God demands that Pastors teach people the truth. The truth we teach is not relative; the truth is a Person; the Truth is Jesus Christ. A selfish pastor is willing to preach another Christ for personal gain (St. Paul proclaims an anathema against such as these). A good shepherd will preach the fullness of truth because it is what is best for the people and it unites them to their Shepherd Who brings them peace, security, and the salvation of their souls.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.