LOST LAMBS, SHEPHERDS, PHARISEES

This homily was delivered on 7 June 2013 on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (Luke 15:3-7)

shepherd-sheep-12 (1)Those of us who are tasked to preach know that there are times when no matter what we do, we can’t find the rhyme and reason for the readings. But thank God often enough, the choice of the readings is nothing less than inspired—as it is today.

Three of our readings today—the First Reading, the Psalm, and the Gospel—use the image of God as shepherd looking for the lost lamb, while the Second Reading is about God’s unconditional love as shown by Christ’s death on the cross—a death, St. Paul makes sure to points out, that was offered not for the righteous, but for the “ungodly.” And that for me just about sums up what the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is about: The Lord as the shepherd who seeks out not only the lost lamb, but also for the black sheep among us.

While reflecting on these readings, I can’t help but think of the lost lamb in me, the black sheep in me. We all have our shadows, and we have areas in our lives where we prefer to stray and to lose ourselves—parts of ourselves where we don’t want to hear the voice of the Shepherd. So the first question I ask myself today is: How willing am I to be found? How open am I to listening to and to following the Shepherd who calls me back to the fold? Perhaps there remain areas in my life where I feel a reluctance to be found or hesitation to be led back to the fold. Today is a good day to think about that and to pray for the desire to follow the Shepherd.

The readings also remind me of the shepherd in me. Our specific vocations and ministries may be different, but we all of us are called to shepherd one another. Today the Lord reminds me of his priorities as a shepherd: not the righteous, not those already converted, not those who belong to the choir—who as we know, are the easiest to preach to—but those who remain outside the Church, the so-called “un-churched,” the sinners, the slobs, if you will, the very people you and I don’t want to be seen with. So a question I also ask myself today is: If this is what God himself is modeling, am I doing the same? Do I have the same priorities? Am I also willing to “leave the 99 in order to find the one lost lamb, the single black sheep?” If so, today’s feast is a good time to revise our strategies.

Finally, lest we forget, the [arable of the lost lamb as told by our Lord in today’s Gospel was addressed not just to the crowd in general, but specifically, to the scribes and Pharisees. And our Lord had a very good reason for that: The Pharisees were not lifting their finger to shepherd the very people that God, in the First Reading, had promised that He himself would shepherd: the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the weak. In fact, they did just the opposite. Instead of seeking them out, they did everything they could to exclude them from the fold. I think today we’re also being invited to examine the Pharisee in us, that self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” part of our selves that excludes others and keeps us from loving them the way God loves all of us and from shepherding them the way God himself and His only Son have done.

So today, maybe it’ll be good to examine the lost lamb in us, the shepherd in us, and even the Pharisee in us. Let’s pray to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus that he may find our lost sheep, teach us his shepherding, and convert the Pharisee in us.

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