Shepherds for Today
Many years ago, an incident happened that angered me greatly for its hypocrisy. An inner city young adult was looking for a job. He was a cook and doing well. He worked previously at the airport on September 11th 2001 at a restaurant that was the closest to the door the terrorists used to board the New York bound aircraft. It shook him up so badly, he could no longer work at that restaurant.
He was a tough person. When he was younger, he got involved in thug life, which gave him a criminal record. However, as the story goes, he was working to change his life and had a good employment history.
He went to apply to work in the kitchen of one of suburban Boston’s world class private universities that was hiring cooks. He did not get the job because of his criminal record. He was a black, Puerto Rican. He explained to me that the manager told him that this was a world class university, people paid good money from all over the world to attend it and they could not hire someone like him for that reason.
I often think of that when I see college students marching for one cause or the other.
I remember as he walked away thinking of the verse in today’s Gospel, they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Today’s Gospel highlights how much Jesus was different than the others in the temple and synagogues. He was preaching in ways that excited the people and they wanted to hear more of what he was saying. But look closer. He gets out of the boat and is surrounded by those who followed him, what does he do first. Notice, he does not heal them, he teaches them. He gives them what they desperately sought: profound wisdom. For they were like sheep without a shepherd. None of their leaders were feeding them with what they needed to hear.
This is literally what we see in today’s first reading where God promises to shepherd them personally.
What is it that people are looking for in Jesus? One answer is what they are not finding elsewhere.
We often talk about evangelization but we can talk a good game. If you really want to build up the parish then we need to be shepherds to those who are like sheep without shepherds. We can say that what will lead people in the door is if we have miracles at every mass or we have slideshows and a band for the music. That will lead some people in the door, but what people are looking for is a place where they can find the shepherd in the people who come here. It is a place where we take the Gospel seriously and live it. It is a place not focused on building up the parish, but in living the teachings of Jesus in Church and outside the Church because that will build up the parish.
We can only do that when we commit ourselves to live the Gospel and that means not trying to do what we need to do to get to Heaven, but to go the extra-mile and do what Christ calls us to do to serve him. This means to do what Pope Francis calls: to make a mess.
It also means to walk the talk.
The university I mentioned at the beginning of the homily is one that talks a good game, but does not walk the talk because its focus is on worldly success, both living it and teaching it. By the way, members of that university tried to get the Catholic Mass kicked off the campus.
Meanwhile, when our focus is on worldly success, we actually fail in our mandate. Christ calls us to live in a way that the worldly community does not. He calls us to live his teachings in a way that people recognize that we believe and that others know that he is alive.
How we treat others is an example. We are not called to act civilly with others as much as act in ways that show compassion to others even our enemies. That does not mean necessarily giving money to every person who asks for money. In fact, Jesus never said when I needed money you gave it to me. But he did say that what you did for the least of my brothers you did for me. What does Jesus ask us to do? You can find it in the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy.
When that man went to the university, they did not have the mandate that we do in the Spiritual and Corporal works of Mercy. In fact, St. James admonishes people for doing exactly what the university did. Ironically, an atheist professor in the university teaches that one does not have to believe in God in order to know right from wrong. However, we do have to believe in God to go beyond the minimum and treat people in ways that Christ calls us to treat people with compassion as we live, and teach wisdom in Christ.
Dorothy Day who taught the center of living our Catholic Faith was in the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy, was not a great fan of Catholic Charities. The reason? She felt that Catholic Charities gave people the opportunity to give their money, but not of themselves. Some would agree with her others would not, but the bottom line is that we have to be careful of using money to do our work without going the extra mile ourselves.
If you want to see the parish grow, put Jesus’ teachings into action and spread those teachings. Remember, when all was said and done, Jesus taught those who were like sheep without a shepherd, we must do the same.
As for the young man, he looked elsewhere to rebuild his life, unfortunately, he died several years ago. Described in his obituary as a good man who doted on his children, worked hard and went to church, he succumbed to an ambush on the street. There was a dispute with another man who challenged him to a fist-fight. He walked out of his apartment expecting to have to have to fight as men fight. The challenger lied and fired five shots, most in his back as he was fleeing. He died moments later.
All around us are those who are like sheep without shepherds and they are looking for a place to find the truth. You were baptized to show them where to find it.