Monday, July 24, 2006

23July2006 Sunday word

16th Sunday of the YearB (23Jul 2006) Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2.13-18; Mark 6.30-34
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
We Are God’s Skin

Last Sunday's gospel reminded us that Jesus sent his apostles on mission. The Twelve and Jesus were separated for some time, and we might imagine that they returned to him in a week because our gospel selection today reminded us of their return. Away the disciples were busy. They preached repentance; and they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them. On their return from doing Jesus' work for the first time, it was apt that Jesus have them "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while."

People kept coming and going in great numbers cutting short their retreat, both to rest and to speak more about what it was like to have been conduits of Jesus' power. Of course doing Jesus' work is more than exercising power. Jesus' response to the crowds showed us that relationship, and its counterpart, presence, was and is as important.

Jesus felt for the crowds, Mark told us, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. That's no throwaway line. It is a clue for us, and it was a cue to the first hearers about Jesus. The first hearers would have recalled that from Jacob's sons--esp. Joseph--to Moses, to David, to Amos the shepherd was a favored image for God and God'’s graciousness toward creation. In fact God, the mighty one of Jacob was named the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.* Another place describes God'’s compassion:

The compassion of [humans] is for [their] neighbor[s], but the compassion of the Lord is for all living beings. [The Lord] rebukes and trains and teaches them, and turns them back, as a shepherd his flock.**

Jesus' self-designation made God’s relationship with humans one that humans could touch and appreciate: I am the good shepherd.*** I'd wager that when most Christians say the Lord is my shepherd of Psalm23, they imagine Jesus.

At the outset of the divine relationship with humans, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was no god of wind, fire or thunder. God personally intervened, hearing the cries of the ragtag band enslaved in Egypt and led them out of it. God became their rock, their king, their shepherd. It's difficult to have a personal relationship with wind, fire, thunder or a statue. It was no wonder that God's people early on wanted a king to rule, lead and guide them. Humans in every age need a God with skin, to use a phrase of Fr. Ronald Rohlheiser.****

Yet often people imbibed power til they got drunk with power. When you and I use it, that familiar phrase, drunk with power, suggests self-concern and not concern for others, not desiring relationship, not caring to be present to others for their sake. Lest we think this a new phenomenon, the prophet Jeremiah reminded us that it'’s age old, something that was current in his own day generations before Jesus. God's heart was just as keenly responsive to abide with us as true king, as a gentle shepherd, who will lead us and not dominate.

This was, is and remains the desire of our Triune God, whom we name as Father, Son Holy Spirit. We want to make ourselves more present to the Trinity. How can we? you ask.

Allow me to offer you this spiritual exercise for your coming week. Set aside 10 minutes each day and allow yourself to be aware of God present to you with care and love, creating and guiding you each moment. More deeply aware of God’s gracious concern for you, savor one way that God has or continues lovingly to create you, lead you and guide you.

You may want to write Psalm 23 on a note card and carry it with you this week and slowly read it, moving your lips, as you begin your 10 minutes. Whatever help you choose, feel Jesus' response for the crowds for you alone: Jesus tends me so that I will not be like a sheep without a shepherd. Noticing his loving attention for each of us is how we can begin to proclaim it to those who are near and who are far off for the sake of the world. That is how we effectively preach repentance, cast out demons today, as well as anoint and heal.

* Genesis 49.24b.

** Sirach 18.13; Israel was the analogue in this image. E.g.,[prophet Micaiah, son of Imlah,] said, “I saw all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd; and the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace"” (1Kgs 22.17). Presence is mutual; religion and godly living help humans be present to the One who remains ever present to us.

*** John 10.11, 14.

**** The Holy Longing: The Search For Christian Spirituality. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001 (date of the audio version).