Sunday, 22 July 2018 : Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we focus our attention to Our Lord as our loving Shepherd, Teacher and Guide, by looking at what He had done for us, in various times and opportunities, to lead us into the right path and to the reconciliation with God, our loving Father. And this is ought to be contrasted to those who have misled and misguided the people of God, those who have made them to fall into sin.

In the first reading today, taken from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord spoke to His people through Jeremiah, condemning all those who have misled His beloved ones into sin, and He would scatter and destroy all of those who were responsible, because they chose to disobey Him and even to teach the falsehoods and lies to the others, especially those entrusted under their care. At that time, this referred to the kings and the false prophets and guides in the society.

But the Lord ultimately did not hate His people or wish for their destruction. Truly, He had shown us His anger, in many occasions throughout the Scriptures, but all of these were directed at the wicked and sinful acts we have committed in life. In that same passage taken from the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord also spoke of the hope that He would come to gather His people once again, to bring them back to His side, and to regain what He has lost to the darkness.

And St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians, our second reading passage today, made it clear how this has come about, through none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whose coming, reconciliation and healing has come upon us mankind. Once we were divided and broken by our hatred and jealousy towards each other, by misunderstandings and lack of proper guidance.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus is the One and only Shepherd and Guide, the Good Shepherd, Whom all of us ought to follow, and not those who have not been faithful to the way of the Lord. All those were the false and evil shepherds, who were not at all concerned with the fate and the well-being of the sheep, that is the Lord’s people who had been placed under their care and stewardship.

The kings and the lords of the people had abused the power and authority given to them, by being transfixed and preoccupied with power and worldly glory. They accumulated for themselves wealth, honour, prestige, fame and all things that we always desire from the world, but in the process, they oppressed the people and led them away from the path of salvation, by forcing them to worship the pagan idols and false gods.

Similarly, during the time of Jesus, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, those who were greatly revered in the Jewish society at that time, because of their role in safeguarding the Jewish laws and customs, have also abused their privileges and authority as shepherds and leaders of the people, by misguiding them away from the true path of God, and into the false ways of empty and meaningless faith as how they prescribed it.

They placed their many customs, practices and rituals, developed over centuries and many generations of the Jewish traditions, as the most important part of the Law of God. They enforced the heavy burden of fulfilling these rules and regulations to the people, while they themselves did nothing to help the people to manage their burden. In fact, they themselves did not fulfil what they have asked others to fulfil, in the obligations to the law.

This is precisely what St. Paul mentioned in the second reading passage today, about the Law that the Lord would come to repeal and destroy. It was not so much as the destruction of the laws of Moses, but rather, the destruction and removal of the old laws and customs, which had been brought about by centuries of misunderstanding and lack of insight into what the Law of God was truly given to us for.

We need to come back again to the fact and reality that God loves each and every one of us, and by no means He wants us to feel burdened in coming to Him. In the Gospel passage today, we saw how the Lord Jesus came to a place to rest, and instead saw a large crowd of people who had been waiting for Him to teach them. Jesus and His disciples were tired, as they had been going around from places to places, teaching the people and ministering to them.

Yet, the Lord had pity and compassion on His people, whom He saw as a large flock without a shepherd, that is without anyone or any guide or authority to lead them. They were clueless and lost, and they came to Jesus, seeing in Him, the hope and the guidance which they had longed for. And the Lord had mercy on them, and loving them, spent hours more to teach them all, despite Him being physically tired from all the journeys and the activities.

That is what the Lord wants to show us, Who is the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd of all. The Good Shepherd knows all of His sheep, and He cares for all of them, that He does not want even a single one to be lost from Him. In another occasion, the Lord Jesus told His disciples about the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd went all out to look for a single lost sheep amidst ninety-nine others who were with him.

And that is what the Lord Jesus had done, going all out for the sake of His people, who were lost, leaderless and without guide, or having been misled and misguided by the wrong and irresponsible authority figures, they were in real need for true guidance and leadership, which He alone could have provided. And there were so many of them, that the Lord could not have, in His most loving and compassionate heart, refused them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, all of us are called to reflect on this reality, and on the love which the Lord, our Good Shepherd has shown to all of us. And we are called to reflect the same love which God has shown to each and every one of us. He has loved us all so much that He has given us His all, even to the point of being crucified and suffer such an imaginably great agony, just so that, because He died for us, all of us may live.

This is, in essence, what all of us as Christians must be for one another. We must be like Christ in all of our actions, and it means that we must be good shepherds, in our actions and in how we deal with others around us. We must show genuine love, care and concern, especially to those whom we know, who are in difficulty and in trouble. And therefore, as we know that sin is our greatest obstacle and trouble, we must indeed be ready to help all those who are trapped in the darkness of sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all today therefore, renew our conviction in faith and our commitment to God, to live our lives worthily and filled with true love and devotion, first of all to God, and then also to our fellow brothers and sisters. Let us all reach out, like our loving God and Shepherd, to those who have no one to care for them. This is our obligation and responsibility as Christians, to be like Christ and to devote ourselves as the Lord Himself has shown us.

Let us not be filled with pride and desire, for worldly things and temptations as those who have fallen into the trap of those temptations throughout the Old and New Testament had shown us. Let us all instead be filled with humility and with love, that in everything we do, we do not do it for ourselves, but instead for God and for our fellow men. May God bless us all, now and forevermore. Amen.