A few weeks after Easter (about a shepherd)

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“I am the good shepherd.” Shepherd, old title. Ancient title.

King David, good shepherd, many not. Look around today, North Korea. (And how is that shepherd?)

Shepherd idyllic. Good king. Imagery. Old Testament and New.

Descriptive. Pencil and paper; what does a shepherd do?

Tending sheep, and lead to pasture. Protector, from the predator. They bind wounds. Bring to market. Heaven.. .

“Blessed are those who do not see, and believe.” Write that ten times. Write that one hundred times, write it a thousand. It is that important.

Jesus the Christ is the Good Shepherd. Most times when the LORD assumes this title people think of an image of Jesus walking with a lamb about His shoulders. The lamb rescued by the shepherd. There are other images. The lamb rescued from the thickets and the thorns, where is the image of the shepherd struggling to free the sheep? That shepherd hangs on a cross bloodied by the thorns and consumed by the task. The shepherd feeds those sheep, and where is the image. It is the host above a chalice, the paschal lamb. A shepherd that enters the herd to walk with that herd. A shepherd that becomes a lamb. The Lamb of God. A lamb of Sacrifice.

The Shepherd of “Good Shepherd Sunday” was present in the previous Sunday too. Hint, the Bread of Life.

The same Shepherd is that bread of life, that same bread where the disciples recognized the risen Lord. The Good Shepherd also is present as the Easter Christ, the Christ of our lives. Pope Francis wears a pectoral cross engraved with the image of Christ and the lamb atop His shoulders, the classic image of the Good Shepherd. Francis is in the person of Christ, Christs Shepherd on earth. Through apostolic succession the priests accept the role of shepherd. Priest, Pastor, Pastoral, Shephard. They are connected. But where else is this Shepherd, where can He be seen?

At Mass, common during this season a pastor fed his lambs the first food for a journey. The priest presented the sacrament of first communion. The Shepherd in bread (and wine). Feed the sheep! (Manna from heaven)

A body is consumed at communion, it becomes part of us. A Shepherd walks with us and us with Him. A tabernacle to make Him visible. Trample back a few Sundays ago, just after the resurrection. The risen Lord described by an angel. A risen Lord discovered through conversation. Discovered through the breaking of bread. Companion, travelers with bread. Shepherd not seen with eyes. Until they were opened. Blessed are they who do not see and believe. Write that ten times. Write that one hundred times, write it a thousand. It is that important.

Witness.

A shepherd feeding the lambs. Shepherd present in so many ways. Priest. Blessed Sacrament. Church. Shepherd today, visible as the body of Christ. Mystical.

Some simple examples. They guide a flock through their schools.

The mystical body of Christ, is a mystical body of the Good Shepherd. “A young flock beginning a journey, go back to that first communion. “To educate is to Shepherd.”

From teachers, to scholars, to writers, to artist.

They shepherd in their unique way, as Christ’s shepherds. Visible today.

The Good Shepherd to guide them as they shepherd others.

Angus Dei.A mystical Shepherd and a mystical Body of Christ. A Good Shepherd of the Resurrection.

The Good Shepherd reaches for the lost sheep. That is the reason for the Nativity. But where is that shepherd today?

The Mystical Body of Christ. Charities is love, the love of the Shepherd. They bring food and shelter to the injured and the marginalized and the lost and the starving and those in despair. Hospitality to hospital. FYI a Franciscan tradition. They are the original purveyors of Hospitals. Remember Francis encounter with a Leper? Did he simply leave that lost sheep, or tend his wounds. Shepherd. Not just the parish (though that counts for certain) but the Church. Big organization and many branches; from schools to relief services to charities. Mystical: of or relating to mystics or religious mysticism:
spiritually allegorical or symbolic; transcending human understanding: Mystical !

This is the Easter season, a time to seek a risen Lord. A Good Shepherd, present in the desert battling the devil, is the same one with a Lamb about His shoulders. That He might seek us out, but can’t we do the same?

Is it possible to look for signs of HIM at every corner of life, to seek his presence here and now? Situational awareness, calling out for salvation and keeping an eye out for danger. Easter is about witnessing a risen LORD and the gospel tells it is not only about eyes. Vision an also a function of the mind, the intellect. Mystical body and mystical shepherd, today. Bonaventure, journey into the mind of God. I must read it.

The Lamb

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John the Baptist is an interesting character for certain. He stood away from the crowds, in rough clothing, baptized and preached repentance. What the Baptist said counted for something and his opinions mattered.

Proof of that is John’s interactions with King Herod. John the Baptist was regarded as prophet. Many people sought him. These little details are important to remember when John calls Jesus “the Lamb of GOD.” Jn 1:29-34

That title, Lamb of God, had biblical significance and it caused people to pause and think. The first thought likely would be from Passover as the blood of the Lamb was sprinkled on the doors as a sign the chosen people were to be saved from the wrath of GOD. It marks their salvation, but it is a bloody sight. The lamb also was used often in temple worship, it was an offering to GOD. The lamb was an offering that was slaughtered. At celebrations it was a common custom to slaughter the finest lamb to serve at the feast. The lamb was often present at celebrations, but after it was slaughtered. It is food. The image is a celebration at a price. Look at the crucifix. The Lamb of GOD. The lamb is a feast, a meal, and a sacrifice.

I wonder what those present thought when John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God? I wonder how many wished instead they proclaimed Him King. John was a prophet, declaring Jesus Lamb of God is prophetic. Proclaiming Him a lamb that takes away sins proclaims death. I wonder how many looked toward the ground.

One thing to remember is that John did not simply declare who Jesus was, John stood in the desert or by the river Jordan screaming “The Kingdom of GOD is at hand.” How easier would it have been for people to understand Jesus as King or military leader or rebel? That they could comprehend, but to follow someone to slaughter? The Lamb of God? Their journey had yet to begin. They had yet to be nourished by His word or know the depths of the Passion of the Christ, the love of GOD. They had yet to be nourished by the Lamb of God as the bread from heaven, the bread of life. They had yet to be nourished by the Lamb, through the Eucharist. Sacrifice, salvation, and nourishment. The Lamb of God. A Lamb that comes down from heaven. John the Baptist wasn’t wrong in giving Jesus this title but it does leave room for explanation.

There were many in that day that declared divine intervention, John was not alone. Many preachers or prophets had their followers. Many declared divine salvation according to their own formulas, a certain date or time or phase of the moon. An eclipse was a sign from GOD. Their views of that divine salvation was often dramatic, majestic, sudden and apocalyptic.

People often thought the divine would intervene in ways that escaped human logic. Many wandered into the desert expecting Gods intervention only to be slaughtered by the Roman armies. The people expected divine intervention, the Romans expected a rebellion. No one expected the Lamb of God. A rebel was easy to understand, even an apocalypse was within their understanding. A failed harvest is a sign from God. But a Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? I add this only to give insight to those that first heard this phrase uttered. To understand their questions and their wonder.

Grasping humility isn’t the easiest thing to do. How easy is it to grasp a Shepherd from heaven coming down to mingle with His sheep. The Lamb of God. Is it easy to grasp that the Baptist points to the divine? That title is revealed in scripture, and it is those scriptures the Lamb will unlock, revealing to those that listen the LORDS divine plan. Through that Gospel the Lamb of God feeds His flock becoming for them food that comes from heaven. Through His death and resurrection the Lamb of God becomes that paschal lamb of sacrifice ransomed for the forgiveness of sins. This is the Lamb that the Holy Mass celebrates, and the one present in the Eucharist. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

second Sunday of ordinary time A

 

a scholar asks a few questions about the Samaritan.

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The good Samaritan, if one looks at today’s gospel Lk 10:25-37 that is what you would see. Eyes and ears might be drawn to the recognizable story, and the conclusions might be rapidly made. The moral of the story can be recited with little thought, it is all so very familiar. The problem is that is not the purpose of that story , it is  intended to be mulled over,  to be examined from every angle. To be questioned.

One angle is to begin not by dissecting the story, but looking at why it was told. The man talking to Jesus is inquiring about obtaining eternal life. That man is a scholar, an intellectual, an academic. He asks a question and fully expects to argue the response, members of academia are critical thinkers. Jesus knows this, and so inquires what the law states. The man responds with the appropriate laws, love of God and of neighbor. He wishes to justify himself, and wishes to delve into the specifics.  In justifying himself , maneuvers towards a legality.

He (I suspect) wishes to know who his neighbor is, in the eyes of God. He seeks legally defined duties and responsibilities. He is into complexities. Its a complex world, at least to some. This smart-man can differentiate between many different types of men, how many different types of humans did God create? The question is not directed at the twenty first century anthropologist. God created man in His own image. Man is singular, not plural; just as God is singular and not the plural gods of the pagans.One species and two sexes. I hope I don’t get into trouble saying that.

Jesus’s story, and in that story Jesus presents evidence that all men are neighbors, it is not simply that the one that responds with kindness is a neighbor. We are all neighbors, we simply are not all good neighbors. Simple point. The priest was the neighbor of the attacked man, and so was the Levites, and even the robber was a neighbor. The Samaritan simply was the neighbor that loved his neighbors as himself. He acted with mercy and compassion, he fulfilled the second law. Did he fulfill the law regarding love of God? Who has the right to ask that question. Even “the good neighbor” has their flaws. Forgiveness anyone? Not then, how about now? Take a look at that very same mideastern neighborhood today. How much different world politics would be today if we recognized each human being as a neighbor of equal stature as ourselves. As I read this story of “The Good Samaritan” I also realize that the Apostles also had read it, and look at what Saint Paul accomplished with the lessons of this short tale! He became the Apostle to the Gentiles, he recognized those pagans as neighbors, and repeated the story to them. Love your enemy, love the sinner, love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as God loves you, and He so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son.

In thinking about neighbors, is it wrong to ask who created neighbors? We know from Genesis that God created man. We know that God created man in his image and likeness, and saw that man was good. Neighbors ‘sort of’ enter into creation at the tower of Babylon, when man begins to act as if they were god. In that account God scatters man, and confuses their tongues. Neighborhoods are created, and at least bad neighbors are created through mans own fault. The good neighbor, any good neighbor,  tries to correct that fault by entering back into the grace of God. To think of that Samaritan’s actions, one has to think that his good actions were carried out with the full knowledge that they would be unreciprocated. Hostilities run deep. It seems that every sinister move man makes creates a new ghetto. Ghettos and slums are wretched and decrepit neighborhoods. God is a benevolent landlord, man tends to be greedy hoarding slumlords. And who is my neighbor?

If the intellectual-man that asked the question of Jesus wished for a justification, does anyone think he put himself in the injured persons shoes? What would his response be if a Samaritan had tended to him? Would he be merciful in return even though that would go against his culture? If that Samaritan offered him something, would he accept the offering? I think the word I am hinting at is dialogue. The Samaritan healed physical wounds, could cultural wounds be healed in the same manner? It takes two to Tango! The man talking to Jesus asked questions, shouldn’t we do the same ? What does it take to be  good  a neighbor? What does it take to be good neighbors? Notice the plural. Is that a tough question, as tough as sending a satellite across the universe? We did one, why cant we do the other? “And who is my neighbor” is a question asked over two thousand years ago, why is there so much trouble in answering this riddle today? Its not a brainteaser, its the simplest and most basic of questions. The one and only correct response is fundamental to civilization. The question was asked, why so much avoidance in giving an answer?

This is much of the mission of Jesus, to bring neighbors together. His mission was to go after the lost sheep of Israel, and they were the Samaritan’s. They are the people who were led astray by King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel. A Jewish King and a pagan Queen who encouraged worship of the pagan god Baal. As the Samaritan showed mercy and compassion, Jesus is the mercy and compassion of God that binds wounds, he reaches out and will be crucified for it. Our God is a merciful God, and a God of compassion; sadly man is not.

I wonder how many other questions that academic had for Jesus? He asked good questions.

 

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

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He eats with tax collectors and sinners,  that is something the Pharisees do not understand. Pope Francis said you must get among the flock, smell the sheep. The Good Shepherd tells the parable of the prodigal son. That prodigal  son did not get among the sheep, he wallowed with the swine, the unclean. The horror of the Pharisee. Emphasize horror and emphasize unclean. Cultural relevance.Exclamation point.  That son, covered in the dung of the swine, welcomed by the father yet belittled by his brother. Is that brother the Pharisee, the one who wishes to remain clean?

Jesus got close to the sinner, not to be like them, but to heal. To heal required He draw them in close. The Shepherds crook, that is precisely its purpose. To hook around them so that one might pull a member of the flock close, especially a member that might tend to run the other way. To remove some burs, a splinter, or salve a wound. To shepherd, to walk where they walk, to guide, and to bandage some wounds. A sin is a wound, and often a sinner is lost. That’s why He eats with tax collectors and sinners. Proclamation point. Proclaim the gospel, even to the taxman. Even to the sinner. The Father calls out to the prodigal son . But He does more that call, He sends His Son. The Good Shepherd to gather those wallowing in the swine’s mud.The Pharisees though had a different plan, and they did not care to use that crook. For them they used the other end of the cane. The spiked end designed to prod, poke, protect and also to to drive away. One waddles in mud and the other slings it. Prodigal Sons. Plural. He dines with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisee was there too.

Mi 7:14-15, 18-20

Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

the shepherds and stephen.

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In that nativity scene stand the shepherds who visit the new born Christ Child. What is their importance, and where do they stand. For one, they share something in common with that Child as he is to be known as “the Good Shepherd.” They are shepherds and tend to the needs of their flock, they are attentive and attendants. They care for life. By trade they are humble, they care for life independent of worldly gain. Their clothing is coarse, and their approach is different from those in finer robes. Independent from a kings court or agenda, they can reach out to those in need without concern for political retribution. They maintain the ability to do what is right. In the war ravaged crèche mentioned before, the humble shepherds might be inclined to bring relief to a young family in desperate need. A bit of food, some shelter from the elements for traveling refugees struggling for life.

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The Christmas narrative takes a dramatic turn today, it leaves the nativity story and drastically commemorates the first Christian martyr. Saint Stephen who defends Christ. Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 Saint Stephen, a deacon who was to bring charitable aid to the flock, stoned for challenging those of authority.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.

The nativity starts in conflict, and that conflict continues today. To protect new and innocent life some offer assistance quietly, though frequently by placing themselves in harms way. Not the soldier, but the shepherd. The peasant accustomed to a daily struggle who watches out for another in need. In Syria today? I think so. That was Saint Stephens responsibility, as a deacon to bring care to those Christians in need. The Child in the manger, the Christ Child, needs care to live. The infant son of God is human too, in need of a humans care. Yesterday and today.