Reflections on the Readings
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 22, 2012 - Year B
We Need a Shepherd
As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Our son, Timothy, has some experience with sheep. A family friend invited Timothy to assist him in shearing his sheep. The winter wool needed to come off the little flock of sheep as the Southern Indiana summer promised to make another appearance. Comically, Timothy retells how he watched a sheep run right into the pond. Sheering was not what he had in mind I suppose. The thick wool on the sheep acted as a sponge and the frantic sheep was rescued by the owner.
I asked my son, "What are sheep like without a shepherd?" "A mess! They lack direction, protection, food, and shelter." He said.
Sound like us? You bet. Today's readings remind us of our need of a shepherd who has the heart of a shepherd.
We need direction. Our lives need focus. The promise of the Twenty-Third Psalm is that the Good Shepherd leads us and gives us repose and peace even in the midst of danger and uncertainty. Jesus began to teach them many things because he saw their hunger for truth and spiritual direction. He looked into their hearts and saw their need for a clearer vision of God. This is what Jesus still gives us. In our parish community we gather each Lord's Day and experience the pastoral care of our shepherd serving us at the request of the bishop. When we come together we hear the teachings of Christ's saving doctrine and his call to us to practice the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love. (CCC 2179)
A shepherd keeps watch over his flock. He is alert to the dangers the sheep may not perceive. The grass is good pasture and the waters are calm. But there are wolves who stalk them. So it is with us. The enemy of our soul goes about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. The Good Shepherd does not lead us into temptation but delivers us from evil. Even when the shadows of death come he does not desert us but his presence drives far from us all fear - he is at our side with his rod and staff. He comforts us and gives us courage. The shepherds crook the Bishop holds when he is among us remind us of the great love and protection we have as he guides us in the paths that are righteous and holy. The Bishop is an icon of the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ.
The true shepherd will be sure there is good pasture. Sheep need to eat. They graze where there are green pastures. In our Sunday gatherings we have a table prepared for us. Christ himself gives us his very body and blood. In this memorial of our redemption we remember that the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. In the Eucharistic celebration he calls us each by name and in love that is beyond words he unites himself with us - through him, with him, and in him, we live. Goodness and mercy flow from him and follow us all the days of our life.
Sheep need shelter. They need the strength of each other. The shepherd provides for their mutual comfort and shelter. For us this is the house of the Lord. It is the place where the community of the faithful gather. This sacred space is a place of safety and where encouragement is given and received. Here we ask our brothers and sisters to pray with us and for us. The priests take care of us. But there is also that care we give to each other. Through Christ we have access to the Father in one Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives to us the joy of Christ's presence and with one heart, and one voice, and with one mind we glorify the Father. In the sacrificial love of Christ we pause each Sunday to remember it is the blood of Christ that brings us near to God. It is a moment of great worth to our soul.
How greatly shall he who is the door to the sheepfold, of the very house of God, bless us with every blessing in the heavenly places and promise us an abundant welcome into his eternal kingdom where we shall dwell forevermore. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com