16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Reading II Ephesians 2:13-18
Gospel Mark 6:30-34
I am sure that most of us this past week felt, at times, like sheep without a shepherd. Water, winds, no power, trees falling on the house — but in the midst of all of that children were born, people died. Did you ever stop to think that sometimes you and I live with passing fancies? We look back and people say, “The power is on now, the remote is working, food is in the refrigerator, and I am ready to go.”
The other night when I was without power it was getting warm in the house so I went down in the basement where it was cool. I sat down in a chair, I was in total darkness. I couldn’t listen to music, no body else was there, I just sat. It was cool, but dark.
When we go through experiences in life Jesus is asking us the question, “Are we people of hope?” Or do you and I go from one thing to the next without thinking and, as the expression goes, ‘like changing underwear.’
Jesus says, “You know, life is so much more important.”
We need to think about that and realize that when we do without something — like losing power in our house — someone else has done without that luxury his or her entire lifetime. You go to Haiti, they don’t even know what a remote control is. They don’t know what electricity is, and they don’t know what plumbing is. So even in our darkness we were ahead of the game.
So Jesus says, “Think about this. When you begin to lose things in your life and lose control — are you a sheep without a shepherd, or do you know that the shepherd is in your midst? Do you know that whatever comes your way — I am always with you?”
Friday I had the opportunity to visit a couple who are friends of mine. His wife is in an Alzheimer’s unit. Just to see someone you’ve known for many years now in this condition is humbling. I’ve visited them periodically so seeing her this way was not a shock, but now I can see how this is affecting both of them. They have been blessed with a wonderful life. Later the husband and I went to their home. We sat in their beautiful house and he said, “You know, this house is up for sale. She made this place a wonderful home for the kids and me — and now it’s just a house. And I don’t need a house anymore. I need to find a new home. And I need the shepherd in my life because I need to let go, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do — to just let go.”
When you’ve had a companion for 55 or 60 years and you lose that person it is very difficult. It’s hard to lose someone after being together just one week. My cousin got married and two weeks later she was without a husband. It’s not easy. Life is not meant to be easy. And God says, “I’m not setting you up for failure either. These things don’t happen so I can sit up in heaven and laugh at you. You need to know I’m in the midst of this with you. I am your God, I am your shepherd, and you are my sheep. And as long as I am with you, you must be people of hope. You cannot give up.”
It’s when we give up hope that the Gospel comes alive. We don’t know where to go with our so-called problems. Jesus says, “Why don’t you try coming to me. I’ll meet you where you are. I’ll give you life.”
Jesus is not going to take Alzheimer’s away from my friend. But he says, “I just want you to know — this is all part of my plan for you. If I gave you one good day after another, you wouldn’t need me. You would be your own God. But because you live with each other — you can upset each other very quickly just like children living at home.”
One child says, “I want this.” The other child yells, “No, I want that. You can’t have it.” The parents finally say, “Both of you shut up and go into time out.”
Sometimes that is how we act as adults.
“I want that.”
“No, you can’t have it.”
Finally, God says, “What I am going to give you is the ability to look in the mirror and see who you really are. And if I’m in your life, you are not sheep without a shepherd.”
The most important thing you and I need to remember is what Pope Francis is telling everybody. He is telling the cardinals and the bishops and the priests and the deacons, he’s telling all moms and dads and every preacher alive, “If God lives in you, you are giving Christ to each other. If God does not live in you, you are just another person who is lost and it is the blind leading the blind. But when you become a shepherd, then you are the light in the world and the salt that adds flavor to everybody’s life. And a small gesture that you may offer to someone can help bring that person out of despair and give him or her life.”
A priest I know just took a six-month sabbatical. Most of the time when a priest takes a sabbatical he will go some place to study, or travel. This priest spent six months with the homeless going from one homeless spot to the other. He said, “It transformed my life, my priesthood. At the age of 68 I have a better understanding of people. I am not ready to look at the homeless, wrap them up and throw them in the river. Now I look at a homeless person as my brother or my sister. I don’t know why the homeless live like they do or what caused them to become homeless, but I was able to smell them and I was able to feel with them — and I was able to see some good within each one of them that perhaps they could not see themselves.”
So, if you were going to travel, or go some place to rest — where would you go? Would you go to a homeless shelter? Would you go to church somewhere?
God says his church is a house of worship, one of the most sacred places in the whole world. That really is why you and I come here. We feel safe here, and we come because we know we cannot handle life by ourselves. We need to hear the voice of the shepherd and we need to look around at each other and know that we are all sheep. And if we are all listening to that voice no matter where we go, God is going to be there with us.
Today Jesus is asking us, “In spite of what you went through this past week, do you still have hope? When you look at all the things going on in your life, do you still have hope?”
The question is: Are you trusting in the man on the cross here, or are you trusting in this pillar? This pillar can fall down. This man, Jesus, can never fall down.
No matter what happens this week — may we be families of hope. May we know that the shepherd is truly with us and that we need to listen to him — perhaps by going down into the basement in total darkness and just sitting for a couple of hours.
No one will disturb you. Just see how long you can stay there.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0005)