Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sundayword, 22 Jul 2012

We Are God’s Skin
16th Sunday of the Year B (22Jul 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Last Sunday’s gospel reminded us that Jesus sent his apostles on mission. The Twelve and Jesus were separated a while. We may imagine that they returned to him in a week because our gospel selection today follows last week’s when we heard Jesus send them. 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.”

However, 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 exercised Jesus’ power. Of course doing Jesus’ work is more than exercising power. Jesus’ response to the crowds showed us relationship, and its companion, presence, were and are 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, through Moses, David and 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.1 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.2
Jesus, too, called himself a shepherd. His self-designation made God’s relationship with humans one that humans could touch and appreciate: I am the good shepherd.3 I wager most Christians, when they say the Lord is my shepherd of Psalm 23, imagine Jesus. 
This quick glance shows from 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. No wonder 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.4
Yet often people imbibed power they shared with their Creator til they got drunk with it. 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 thing with us, the prophet Jeremiah reminded us that it’s age old, something that was current in his 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.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Begin as usual to allow yourself to be aware of our triune God present to you with care and love, creating and guiding you each moment.
  • Ask the communion of saints to intercede for you to be more deeply aware of the Trinity’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—or have it on your phone or iPad—and carry it with you this week. Slowly reading it, moving your lips, may help you begin your 15 minutes. 
  • Whatever helps you, feel Jesus’ response for the crowds for you alone: Jesus tends me so I will not be like a sheep without a shepherd. Noticing his loving attention for each of us helps us proclaim it to those who are near and who are far off.
  • Close saying the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ prayer shapes us to effectively preach repentance, confront evil, as well as anoint and heal.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Genesis 49.24b.
  2. 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.
  3. John 10.11, 14.
  4. The Holy Longing: The Search For a Christian Spirituality. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001 (date of the audio version).


Wiki-images by Phillip Medhurst of Jesus sending out apostles and by shakko of 3d-century statue of the Good Shepherd used by CC BY-SA 3.0.

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