Walking the Walk:Rev Judy’s Homily for the Reign of Christ Sunday Nov. 23,2014
A few weeks ago I was visiting our youngest Sunday school class, for 4-6 year olds, and they were coloring two pictures: a picture of cute little sheep and lambs in a field and a picture of Jesus carrying a little lamb in his arms. The teacher, one of our parents, was teaching: God loves you and God takes care of the little sheep; Jesus loves you and takes care of you. I sat down and praised the work they eagerly showed me. We sang “Jesus loves me” and I got ready to go, saying that they were a beautiful group of little lambs. Bobbie,6, asked me what a lamb was. I said a baby sheep. Riah,5, said to me “Well, I am not a sheep!” I had to agree that they were beautiful little girls and that God loved each of them very much. It was too hard to explain that sheep stand for many things in the scriptures, including God’s people,but I gave it a good try.
In the first reading for this Sunday,Ezekiel 34:11-12, the prophet Ezekiel is following up on a ten verse challenge to the shepherds of Israel who have lost the sheep, who take care of themselves instead of the flock, who actually feed off the flock. In verses eleven and twelve God takes the sheep back and looks after them, searching for them, rescuing them and giving them good pasture land. In Verse 16b God says “I will shepherd the flock with justice”. God, the Good Shepherd, goes on to say that the fat sheep push the thin ones out of the way and drive away the weak sheep. Reading this passage as a 21st Century Christian and Roman Catholic Christ follower, I am pleased that we can dissent even as Ezekiel did. Rev. Charles Curran, a famous moral theologian who disagrees with the church on many things, calls this loyal dissent. Isn’t this what the prophets did? Isn’t this what Ezekiel is saying? Watch out you so called shepherds-you are losing the sheep and driving them away. Pope Francis lives a lifestyle of simplicity and reaches out to the poor and outcast no matter what the other shepherds are doing. He challenges us to “have the smell of sheep” on us-to be deeply and closely involved with the sheep.
Jesus, in the famous Matthew 25:31-46 passage, minces no words. He is telling us that to walk the walk of building the kingdom/kin-dom of God we are to feed the hungry, give the thirsty a drink, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, and visit the prisoners. To do this is to serve Jesus, the Christ. To do this is to serve God. To do this is to care for the sheep.In another Jesus given metaphor: if we love him we are to feed the sheep, ewes, and lambs. Anything less than this is to talk the talk sitting on our rear ends. It counts for nothing. In this passage Jesus also separates the doers from the talkers and lets us know clearly that “as often as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these,you neglected to do it to me” (V.46). There is no eternal life in this. Love is an action word. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta says: “Love is not words. It is action. Our vocation is to love”.
The Good Shepherd is both the name and the metaphor for our church. We teach that each one is to serve the next one. We serve mostly the hungry, homeless, formerly homeless, underemployed,unemployed, thirsty, not well clothed, sick, prisoners and other outcasts. We serve one another. There are moments of great joy in our church and tomorrow we will affirm the baptism of a young adult man who was almost dead from an opportunistic infection, struggling for life in the hospital a year ago to date. As he was baptized by me in the hospital he is really happy to make and affirm baptismal promises when he is healthy again a year later. He has a difficult life of battling opportunistic infections and sometimes he is difficult within his family as he and they deal with what it means to battle virulent disease so young. Yet, we are so thankful for the miracle of his life and his desire to follow Christ. The work of such service is often joyful. But just as often it is very difficult as the needs never stop, and the resources ,including human resources needed to serve, are never enough. There are moments of almost screaming-help, we can’t do this anymore,send some help, please! There are moments of impatience and frustration- saying when will that one ever see the light for his or her life? There are moments of anger when one larger sheep grabs all the best food being served or when we are treated to a diatribe of curse words as someone frustrated with not having what is needed yells at the closest people he or she can find. There are no saints here, just a small group of very human folks trying to be good shepherds. And we can only pray that at the end of the day, we too will be lifted up and carried by the Shepherd. This is our faith. And in the meantime, let us continue the work of the reign of God,the work of the good shepherd.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Co-Pastor Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community
I am also sharing here the words of Fr. Ron Rolheiser who wrote an excellent homily for this Sunday on the Spirituality of the Readings on the St. Louis University Website:
|When we think of the essentials of the Christian faith we generally associate these with belief in a certain creed, acceptance of various dogmas, adherence to a certain moral code, especially as it pertains to private morality, involvement with a church community, and with having some personal relationship to Christ in our lives.
Now, while these things are essential and may never be denigrated, Jesus would add something else. For him, a criterion, in fact the criterion, for the practice of the Christian faith is the exercise of the corporal works of mercy. Have we fed the hungry? Given drink to the thirsty? Clothed the naked?
Jesus’ command to practice the corporal works of mercy is direct, uncompromising, and everywhere present in the entire New Testament. Taken as whole, every tenth line in the New Testament is a direct challenge to the Christian to reach out to the physically poor. In Luke’s gospel, it is every sixth line. In the Epistle of James, it is every fifth line. Involvement with the poor is not a negotiable item. This is mandated with the same weight as is any creed, dogma, and moral or spiritual teaching.
And this may never be spiritualized. The command to be involved with the physically poor means just that, the physically poor. It is rationalizing when we turn the corporal works of mercy into something less concrete, namely, when we define the physically poor in such a wide sense so as to include everyone—“To feed the hungry can also mean feeding those who are spiritually hungry.” “To give drink to the thirsty can also mean giving spiritual nourishment to those who, while affluent materially, are hungry for deeper things.” There is a sense in which this is true, but that is not what Jesus intended in Matthew 25 and not what the church has perennially intended in its social teachings. There is a spiritual sense to hunger, thirst, and poverty, but that is addressed elsewhere, both in the New Testament and in church teachings. Reaching out to the deeper, non-material, hungers and thirsts of humanity is what is mandated in the spiritual works of mercy. The words of Jesus in the gospels challenging us to reach out to the physically poor are not intended spiritually. The corporal works of mercy are about reaching out to the physically poor, pure and simple.
So how do we give drink to the thirsty?
Obviously, especially given what has just been said, there is an aspect to this that is brutally concrete. Water is even more important than food. Without water we die, are unable to wash ourselves and our clothing, and are unable to enjoy any quality of life whatever. To lack clean, drinkable water is to lack the first necessity of life. Hence, Jesus’ command to give drink to the thirsty is, first of all, about looking around ourselves and our world and trying to provide for every person on this earth clean, drinkable water.
This, given the present situation of the planet, is not easy to do. A long, and mostly morally sanctioned, history of privilege and inequality—wherein some of us have surplus while others lack for basic necessities—has made for a situation in which there is now a rationalized acceptance of the fact that millions of people lack the basic physical necessities for life, including clean, drinkable water. Thus, to get water to the thirsty today requires more than just the positive efforts being made by those individuals and agencies which are directly trying to bring clean water into poor areas. What is required, as well, is a change of heart and ultimately a change of lifestyle, by each of us who does have clean water.
As the great social encyclicals of the church, from Leo XIII through John Paul II, re-iterate over and over, clean water will come to everyone on the planet when those of us who have surplus, of any kind, live fully moral lives, namely when we accept that is it not right to have surplus while other lack necessities:
Giving drink to the thirsty involves looking at those principles with more moral courage than we have up to now.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser