Homily for July 22, 2018 (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)
Those were the words most feared by contestants in a reality show
called The Apprentice that began on NBC in 2004.
They were announced with great vigor when a competitor
was eliminated from the cast.
The original host of that show, as the saying goes,
went on to pursue other opportunities.
Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading,
God essentially says, “You’re fired!” to the leaders of Judah.
They had been entrusted
with the challenging task of governing their people
during a time of great political, military and social turmoil;
and they failed badly.
Adopting the idols of the nations that surrounded them,
they led their people into idolatry and away from God.
Trusting in the fragile power of military and political alliances,
they asked their people to trust in foreign leaders
rather than in God.
They allowed and even participated in
the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable
who had a special claim on God’s love and concern.
They were unworthy of their offices and titles.
God promised to replace them with “a righteous shoot to David”
who would “reign and govern wisely” and
“do what is just and right in the land.”
His name would be Yeshua or Jesus,
which means “God saves.”
At the end of today’s gospel passage,
we see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tending to his flock.
He welcomes the return of the apostles from their mission
of preaching, healing and driving out demons.
Hearing their reports and seeing their fatigue,
he invites them to take some time away to rest.
But even as they arrive
to what they thought would be “a deserted place,”
they are confronted with an astounding sight:
“a vast crowd” of people in need—
spiritually, mentally and physically suffering—
“like sheep without a shepherd.”
Although he surely must have been as exhausted as his disciples,
Jesus responds with compassion.
How often do we think of compassion
as a quality of leadership or an expression of strength?
For too many people today, including those in the highest offices,
compassion is viewed as a sign of weakness,
a form of mushy liberalism,
or part of “a sucker’s game.”
Yet the life and teachings of Jesus
reveal to us that compassion is not only a sign of strength
but a godly sign of strength:
the Prodigal Father
who welcomes home the Prodigal Son;
the one who tells those
who would stone a woman caught in adultery
to do so only if they themselves are sinless;
the one who washes the feet of his disciples;
the one who suffers and dies
so that we might be healed and saved;
the one who, in St. Paul’s words,
“broke down the dividing wall of enmity”
that separated Jew and gentile.
Even when the world fired him
in one of the most brutal ways imaginable,
he never fired us.
In fact, he embraced us.
Earthly shepherds come and go.
The Good Shepherd remains here for us. +