July 22, 2012
ORDINARY 16 (B)
I will appoint shepherds for them … so that they need no longer fear & tremble…. – Jer. 23: 4
There is an old fable about a little ant who felt he had been given a raw deal. He had been assigned to carry a piece of straw so long & heavy that he staggered beneath its weight. To add to his frustration, his progress was brought to an abrupt halt by a large gap in the pathway. Seeing no way of getting across that deep divide, he became discouraged & was ready to give up on his mission. Suddenly, he thought of a solution. His back breaking load could actually be turned into a blessing. He carefully pushed the straw over the crack, crossed over it to the other side, & resumed his journey. He had transformed his heavy burden into a friendly bridge.
After the resurrection, Jesus said three times to Peter, “Feed my lambs … tend my sheep … feed my sheep.” As Vatican II repeatedly emphasizes, this command was not meant just for the professional clergy, but for the entire people of God. It is all of us together, each in his or her own unique way, who are meant to be a light set on a hill to show the way for a world darkened by fear & divided by sin. If this command comes to us as a heavy burden, we will fail ultimately to see the connection between loving God & loving each other. But if it comes to us as a blessed opportunity to build bridges & rise above the things that divide us from one another, we will simultaneously deepen our love affair with God.
“Feed my sheep” means, first of all, to feed hungry people. Indeed, in the episode immediately following today’s Gospel, Jesus fed the multitudes with only two fish & five loaves. There are so many hungry people in the world today that the enormity of the problem is difficult to grasp. Nearly all of here have so much food available it’s only a question of what we’re going to eat & when we’re going to eat it. This is all the more reason why each of us should be doing something to show our deep concern for those who are literally starving to death every day. Feeding the hungry is not only good for them but also for the world, because hunger is partially responsible for the unrest in so many places.
Secondly, there is the spiritual dimension of our Lord’s command. More than food for the stomach, we need food for the spirit. We need God & the word of God. Most of us know this, but do we know how to share this spiritual food? It is possible that each one of us will have the opportunity to feed at least one lamb this week. Whether or not the Lamb will come in wolf’s clothing or not, I cannot say. But if we remain open to the possibility, we will encounter someone who is hungry for God & hungry for the compassion of a shepherd of the Lord who will guide him or her across a friendly bridge to a new life.
We who follow Christ have the potential to teach many things to the lost sheep of this world. That is our job as members of Christ’s body. If we see it as a heavy burden, we will fail. If we see it as a blessed opportunity, we will deepen our love affair with God.
As an old man walked the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish & flinging them into the sea. Finally catching up with the youth, he asked him why he was doing this. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun arose. “But the beach goes on for miles & there are millions of starfish,” said the old man. “How can your effort make any difference?” The young man looked at the starfish in his hand & then threw it to safety in the waves. “It makes a difference to this one,” he said.
Have we been feeding God’s sheep with bread or stones? The answer to that question makes all the difference between someone being helped or being turned off by Christianity. The stakes are too high for us to be nonchalant about it: “I will appoint shepherds for them, so that they need no longer fear & tremble.” Amen!