16th Sunday of Year B
July 19, 2009
After the Second World War, we saw the emergence of various forms of division. The partition of Berlin into East and West was a microcosm of the political division between Socialism and Capitalism. The fantastic wealth of the First World countries is morally difficult to reconcile with the poverty of the Third World , and the economic gulf between them is wider than ever. In the Bible, sin is described in various ways, and one of the common descriptions is that it is a separation of man from God and of man from his fellowmen. But if men have become divided, it is because they separated themselves from God. The story of the Tower of Babel demonstrates how the sin of pride can result in the almost infinite divisions of men and women and the scattering of humanity (Gen 11:9)
What causes the division and scattering of women and men? Various are the factors, but even to date, one who looks at the problem theologically can be almost certain that, among others, it comes from shepherds who separated themselves from God, and who, for that reason, failed in the task of leading and guiding the people. Thus, king Zedekiah separated himself from God by not governing the people with wisdom and (economic and political) justice; so they were scattered and exiled to Babylon (Jer 23:2). This recalls God’s word to Ezekiel in the parable of the shepherd: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!… You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured… You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts”(Ezek 34:3-6).
But God’s will is not division; rather, it is atonement—that is to say, at-one-ment: to bring people in union with Gold and with men. Thus the prophecy of Jer 23:4: Ï myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to the meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble, and none shall be missing.” This prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus. In the gospel today, Jesus took pity on the people and, unlike Zedekiah, took the role of a shepherd. How is it fulfilled? In the gospel, Jesus feed them with the word. According to the 2nd Reading , he removed the barrier of hostility (the Law) that kept people apart, and reconciled them into one body through the cross, his death (Eph 2:15-16). In other words, Jesus not only took care of his people, but he also died from them so that they could become one people of God.
Today, there is still much division among people nay, it has even multiplied. The political division between Capitalism and Socialism continues, despite the fall of the Russian Empire and the death of Mao Tse-Tung. The economic gulf between the Wealthy and Powerful Countries and the Poor and Weak—but euphemistically described as Developing—Countries remains unbridgeable. The cultural rift between the Colored and the White continues to baffle us, despite the recognition that all are equal, since others still feel they are more equal than others. And quarrels of religions have not stopped, for all the inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism. These aside, we have to add the division in our own country, in our homes, and among friends. Even so, as followers of Christ, we are called to assume the role of shepherds. By our word and life, and more so by our death, we have the vocation to do our human part in the reconciliation of man with God, which is the reconciliation between individuals, families, and countries. God has called us to be instruments of reconciliation. The will of God, as already noted, is unity. As shepherds, it is incumbent upon us to abolish what keep us apart.
This exhortation is specially addressed to Christian leaders. There is always much temptation for leaders to give priority to their own position and power rather than to service. Not surprisingly, some are interested in giving rewards to flatterers, sycophants, and admirers, and they knock down those who disagree with them—that is to say, those who tell the truth. They are tempted to give importance to their own pockets, rather than the welfare of the people. And so, the consequences are clearly recognizable: we do not progress as much as we have to, we are back to square one, and remain a divided country. But Christian leaders have to make a difference. They can set examples of shepherding and even offer themselves for crucifixion. As Jesus once did.