Listen to Fr. Jeremy’s homily from the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sunday, July 22.
The first several chapters of Mark are full of Jesus performing might deeds of power. He rebukes the wind and the waves to calm the stormy sea, when the Twelve are in danger of drowning. He heals many who are sick. He makes the paralytic walk, stretches out the hand of the man with the withered hand, cures Simon’s mother-n-law of her fever, cleanses a leper, drives out demons, cures even unbeknownst to Himself the woman with the hemorrhage, raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He even granted this mighty power & authority to the Twelve, when He sent them out on mission. These might deeds attracted attention. People came from far and wide, to marvel, to wonder, to experience for themselves His tremendous power… to feel His saving touch in their life.
We hear that the people gather for such demonstrations of power to such an extent, that Jesus and the Twelve cannot obtain any rest. Not even having time to eat. Constantly, people are coming to be made whole, to be saved from their affliction. Please, do this! Now, do that! Help me! Heal me! Save me! In fact, I suspect one of the most common and familiar titles we have for Jesus is Savior. He is indeed. But is that all Jesus is? Is Savior enough?
Since moving to Holy Family, every day I’ve watched the large crowds of people going up the street to the River Run Water Park. Whole families, groups of teens, crowds of kids… each day, are going for some summer fun. Also each day, there is this regular parade of lifeguards who park in the parish parking lot going to and from work. The lifeguards are there to keep an eye on the patrons and to make sure everyone enjoys themselves safely. The lifeguard’s whistle rules the pool. You don’t go down the waterslide until the lifeguard gives permission. If a group is running on the pool deck, the whistle tells them to stop. If kids are being too rough or pushing kids under, the whistle reins them in.
Now, (heaven forbid) if a small toddler that didn’t yet know how to swim wondered out of the wading pool into the deep water without their floaties, started thrashing around, and then went under, every one of those lifeguards would dive into the water instantly to save the drowning child. In doing so, they’d be doing their job. The person saved and the parents of the rescued child would be most grateful to the lifeguard, as they should be. If that same child later in the day, again wondered into the deep end, the lifeguard would once again dive in to save them. Each time, the lifeguard will do their job, do their duty. But ultimately, the child needs more than a lifeguard on duty to pull them out of the water when they get in over their head… The child needs to learn how to swim.
“For they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them” (Mk 6:34). In the massive crowds coming to Jesus to be saved & to experience His tremendous power, Jesus pulls the people from the deep end. He sets them on solid ground free from harm, free from fear, free from what ails them. But it is not enough… at least, Jesus is clearly not content with this alone. Jesus wants more for the people, for us, than just to rescue us time and again.
Jesus the Good Shepherd would have us learn from Him. Which is why, He begins to teach the shepherd-less sheep. The people need saving yes; but they just as much need to learn how to avoid such dangerous and death-dealing situations. They need to learn the narrow way that that leads to the Father. They need to learn right from wrong, green pastures from brown, life-giving waters from deadly. And so ‘He begins to teach them many things.’
Things are not so different in our day. Many around us are flat out in need of saving, they are drowning: in difficulties, in financial hardships, in emotional and physical sickness, in relational struggles, in pornography, in infidelity, in self-centeredness, in irresponsibility. Many cannot distinguish safe waters from dangerous, right from wrong, truth from lies, good from evil, beauty from ugliness. Jesus would save them, save us, pull us free from such struggles. But simply lifting them, lifting us, out of these difficulties – for which we cry out “Lord, save us!” – is not nearly enough. We also need to learn.
So when was the last time you learned, studied, listened, really listened & absorbed & accepted the sound teaching of Jesus the Good Shepherd? When was the last time you spend quality time contemplating His words, His voice in the Scriptures? How much dust has settled upon your copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Sadly, all too many today act as sheep without a shepherd. We do what we want, go where we will – even the deep end entirely un-prepared – and then expect Jesus to save us. He can… He will! But like a lifeguard, He would rather we learn how to swim… not so we can do without Him, but so we can be with Him, alongside Him, in His footsteps, on His Way as His disciple. For this reason, He taught. For this reason, He gave authority to the Twelve & to the Church. For this reason, He invites us even now to learn, to study, to know, and to go in His ways.
If we Christians, the Flock of Christ, would experience the fresh & green pastures, revived souls by restful waters, & tables prepare in the sight of our foes, then we must be sheep who listen to the voice of the Shepherd, who learn His pathways, and who live His teachings.