If there were a star pupil… it would have been Bartimaeus

For the past several weeks, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and his disciples have been on a journey to Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus has taken opportunity of their time spent together, and of the people they encountered, to provide very specific instructions regarding discipleship. He started with, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He followed that with, “whoever is not against us is for us” and thereby clearly communicating that discipleship is not an exclusive club, instead calling all to discipleship. In addition, he gave very specific instruction about the importance of accepting all peoples, especially the marginalized and poor, and stated, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” In this same theme, He explicitly reminds His disciples that, “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” And, finally, in last week’s Gospel, He lays out His plan for leadership, stating, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

When you consider that Jesus is providing these instructions while on the journey towards His suffering and death, we, his modern-day disciples, cannot ignore the significance and the importance of the message that Jesus was attempting to communicate to his followers. Knowing that persecution, suffering, and crucifixion were awaiting his arrival in Jerusalem, is it any wonder that Jesus took such a direct approach in his instruction and teachings?

It is for this reason, born of both urgency and need, that St. Mark introduces the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting by the road leading from the city of Jericho to Jerusalem, crying out the name of his Messiah, Jesus Son of David. Bartimaeus, the embodiment of Jesus’s teachings on discipleship.

If there were a star pupil, the one student in class who always got the gold star, it would have been Bartimaeus. His faith was focused, complete, and entirely dependent upon his belief in Jesus Christ as his only hope. His faith did not waiver when others chastised, marginalized, and attempted to prevent him from coming to Jesus. Bartimaeus did not allow his limitations and weaknesses to dissuade him from seeking Jesus; rather, he saw in Jesus the cure, and believed that Jesus would make him whole. Bartimaeus placed his entirety, all that he had, and all of who he was, in Jesus.

Would we not say that Bartimaeus was the embodiment of discipleship? Would we not say that Bartimaeus had chosen to “deny himself and pick up is cross and follow (Jesus)”? Would we not say that Bartimaeus represented the very marginalized, the outcast of his society, among whom Jesus came to save? Would we not say that Bartimaeus received Jesus with the very faith of a child and when given opportunity he chose to follow and serve, rather than turn away and seek honor and recognition? Of course, we would! And, so doing, we must also then set him as our example.

I will admit, however, that following Bartimaeus’s example is not easy. There are moments along the way when I become discouraged, disorientated, and defeated. During these times my focus waivers and I give my attention to the negativity and division prevalent in our society and world. I find it difficult to avoid the disillusionment that comes from living in a world that is consumed with appearing right, rather than doing right, and I look for a place alongside the path to sit, to take a break, and forget.

Am I the only one here today who experiences such moments?

Am I the only one who feels as if there are moments when our society has come to accept violence, abuse, and manipulation as the norm and has somehow turned the corrupt into the venerable and the innocent into the oddity? When shootings at school, churches, synagogues, and other public spaces have ceased being a tragedy, and instead have become opportunities to push political agendas and bolster campaigns? It is now considered a fool’s errand to place our faith in our institutions, both secular and sacred, trusting that they will honor their self-prescribed rules and missions of service. I cannot be the only the one present here this day, who too feels moments of doubt, and fear, and dread.

Yet, though I do not deny the darkness of our current day, I am reminded that these days are not unique nor without precedent. A brief recall of human history, recent human history even, reminds the casual observer that there have been dark days before. Such as the days leading up to Our Lady visiting the 3 children of Fatima, Portugal. Or, the days during when Sister Faustina Kowalska was inspired by Jesus and from which the movement of the Devotion of the Divine Mercy found its beginnings.

Bartimaeus, the three children of Fatima, and Sister Faustina are all embodiments of discipleship. All of these individuals, in their own unique way and with their own unique limitations, answered Jesus Christ’s call to discipleship. Through their willingness and obedience, they all changed and affected their world, and our world, with goodness and hope.

Our challenge this day is to follow in their footsteps. To keep our faith in focus, to respond with joy and exaltation to his call, and to follow Jesus in his service. This is our challenge, and this is where we find our hope…not only for us, but for the whole world.

I truly believed, and most definitely behaved, as if I was somebody.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 10:35-45

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I want you all here to know that I, Deacon Jason Batalden, was one of the 4 senior captains of my high school football team. Yes, indeed, approximately 30 years ago, in a small Wyoming town, in a small high school of less then 400 total students, I was one of the 4 seniors chosen that year to be the captain of a not very good high school football team. In fact, if you need proof I have a copy of my senior high school year book just in case there are any doubters among you.

I confess to you, at that moment and at that time in my life I truly believed I had accomplished something. In my tiny little insignificant corner of this planet, in the fall of 1987, I was convinced that I was someone of great importance. If you were to ask my high school friends, my parents, and yes, even my wife, because she was there and she witnessed it all, they all would confirm that I truly believed, and most definitely behaved, as if I was somebody.

I share with you this somewhat embarrassing personal revelation NOT to highlight some self-aggrandized moment in my personal history, rather I share this moment with you because I want you to know that I absolutely identify with James and John.

James and John were among the first who were chosen. They left behind their father and their family owned fishing business and, along with Peter, became the inner most circle of Jesus’s disciples. It might even be said that they were the “Captains” of the team.

James and John believed themselves to be important and who among us would blame them. They had been with Jesus from the beginning. They had witnessed the miracles of Jesus, they themselves had performed miracles, and as Jesus’s fame spread throughout the region so did theirs. They had come to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and to them, that meant that they were very physically close to divine power and authority. Is it any wonder that they took opportunity, out maneuvered their fellow disciples, made known their intentions, and vocalized their commitment to follow Jesus? Can we honestly say that we ourselves would not have acted similarly given the same circumstances and limited understanding and insight into God’s divine and miraculous plan?

Yet, for us sitting here today, it is hard not to judge them. It is easy for us to criticize them for their lack of understanding and find fault with their misguided ambitions. And if that is the case, if we do in fact judge them, then we must also be willing to apply those same standards and judgements to ourselves. For even to this day, we as modern-day Christians, still struggle with our own lack of understanding and misguided ambitions.

Notice, that Jesus does not outright deny their request. Rather, he reminds them that seats of honor are, in fact, privileged to God to dispense as he alone deems fit. However, Jesus did promise that they would all share in his destiny–to share in his destiny of suffering and the endurance of trial and tribulations for the sake of the Gospel. A prophetic promise that I am sure they, at that time, did not yet fully understand.

In an effort to find meaning in today’s Gospel, we must attempt to place ourselves in the same time and space of the disciples. We must try and place ourselves in their “shoes” and try to find ourselves in their weaknesses and fallibilities. For, if we do that, then we too can also hear Jesus’s instruction as he states in v.45, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There are two important words in this verse which I believe will bring us insight and hope to God’s plan for our lives. The first is the word “servant”. The Greek word translated “servant”, and also “slave” in the previous verse, is “diakonos”. Diakonos is also where the English word “deacon” finds its origin.

The image of the word “diakonos” would have been very clear and easily discernable for the 1st Century Palestinian Jew. Slavery was common and prevalent in their society and culture. Slaves were easily identifiable and their position, or lack thereof, in society was well established. Jesus’s instruction to his disciples that in order to be the “greatest” they must become a servant, was absolutely revolutionary. In addition, his caveat “for many” was also unusual in that a 1st Century slave belonged only to 1 master, not too many.

Jesus’s clearly laid out plan for success in the New Kingdom was obviously not one the disciples would have anticipated. Instead of being lords and rulers he was calling those who followed him to be servants, and not just a servant to one, but a servant to all.

James and John were merely voicing what was already a commonly held belief by all the disciples. They were not unique in their ambition, otherwise the other disciples would not have become so indignant. Notice that Jesus did not chastise their ambition, rather he challenged their motivation and goals. Jesus is very clear in this passage of Scripture. He expects that those who follow him will be ambitious and will strive for success, however, he asks that those who follow him to allow their ambition to be sanctified and self-sacrificial.

The second point I want you to take from this text is the word “ransom”. The Greek word “lytron”, which translated “ransom” refers specifically to the “redemption price” paid for the release of captives. Though his word occurs only two times in the New Testament it is related to an Old Testament concept. In the Old Testament, kinship relations gave rise to the obligation of protection of family relationship. Therefore, family members took responsibility for paying the ransom price for other family members who were taken captive or sold into slavery.

Jesus was not just admonishing his disciples to be servants of all, but he was also directing them as to how they should serve. To serve someone was not enough. Rather, Jesus was instructing his disciples to be servants FOR someone, for their salvation.

As modern-day Christians there may be a temptation to look at today’s Gospel and dismiss its instruction and meaning. It might be possible to pass off Jesus’s call to sanctify our ambitions and commit ourselves to be servants for each other as a call only intended for the 12 Apostles and the early church saints. However, to do that would be both a denial of Jesus’s call to “pick up our cross and follow him” and a missed opportunity to achieve and become all that God has intended for us in this life.

We come to this altar today asking God to give us his strength and endurance as we accept his call to serve one another in the example of his Son, Jesus Christ. Knowing that in our modern-day world the methods and modalities of service may not be what they were in 1st Century Palestine, yet our mission has not changed. To follow Jesus Christ is to imitate him and to imitate him is to be a servant. A servant to one another and to the whole world, not matter their religion, their color, their nationality, or lack of status.

I ask you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to commit yourself, as I commit myself, to live each day in as servants for his service.

A few years past my youngest son, who was in high school at the time, wanted to get a dog

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:27-35

A few years past my youngest son, who was in high school at the time, wanted to get a dog. We had put down the dog of his childhood the previous winter and he wanted a new one. I was opposed to this idea, of course, considering that in a few years he would be away at college and I would be stuck with a dog.

My position wasn’t helped by the fact that the day he asked also was the day that we had spent volunteering at a fund-raising event for a local animal shelter. Nor was my position helped by the fact he had also spoken to his mother. So it was no surprise that we soon found ourselves standing in front of a dozen or so cages of the most pitiful dogs on the planet. Each of them with their own unique “take me home” puppy-dog eyes and vigorously wagging tails pulling at heart strings and clouding rational thought. You already know how this story ends, but I will continue.

My preference was the oldest dog we could find. One who looked at me with the same disdain and apathy with which I view it. My son wanted a puppy. We compromised and came home with a 2-year-old Australian Cattle dog named Honey.

Honey and I didn’t exactly hit it off. Australian Cattle Dogs are a very intelligent breed and Honey, true to her nature, is very intelligent. She is not, however, smarter than me but she thinks she is, and that of course is the source of animosity between us. For example, I will tell Honey to stop doing something, like chasing the cat, chewing the carpet, or barking at nothing, which will then cause her to give me a satirical squinty-eyed stare. I really don’t like that stare.

Fast-forward to present day: my son, now enjoying his second year at college, and me– stuck with a too-smart-for-her-own-good, beady-eyed Australian Cattle Dog with a long healthy life ahead of her.

Now don’t get me wrong, Honey is really a pretty good dog. She is obedient, intuitive, and has a natural instinct to please. However, there is one thing that absolutely drives me crazy about his dog: she doesn’t do well with distractions. Whether it be the squirrels running across the high wire or chattering from the trees, the mailman, the UPS driver, the neighbor kids on their bicycles, a friend coming to visit, or, and most especially, other dogs, Honey loses her mind. She forgets what she is supposed to be doing and does the exact opposite. My wife says it best when talking about the dog, “Honey would be a really great dog, except for the fact she can’t deal with distraction.”

In today’s Gospel of Mark Jesus confronts Peter’s ability to deal with distractions.

According to Mark’s Gospel Jesus concludes his mission to the outlying Gentile districts and begins his journey to Jerusalem. It is at this time he gives his disciples their first insight into what to expect when they get there. As the Gospel writer points out, Peter, who had previously professed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, now takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him.

Peter, I believe, had allowed himself to get caught up in the fame and the popularity of the movement and fully expected that Jesus was now finally going to Jerusalem to establish his prophesied earthly kingdom. From there he would take his seat upon the throne and all the world would be under his rule. Peter’s expectations were a product of his understanding, and his understanding had been confused with his human desires, and it was this confusion that became the source of Peter’s distraction. And subsequently the cause for Jesus’s response to Peter.

Jesus rebuked Peter for allowing himself to get distracted from the mission. The mission was not one of earthly power and prestige, but Jesus’s mission was, and is to this day, to save the world one relationship at a time.

Let us not forget that our church, the church which Christ Jesus himself established some 2000 odd years ago, was not a church founded on dogmas, doctrines, and traditions. Our church was started by a group of people who had a personal encounter with the Savior of the World. This encounter was not just for them. Today we do not celebrate THEIR relationship with Jesus. We celebrate OUR relationship with Jesus. Our church is a church founded on the one, central, and essential fact that Jesus Christ desires a personal, intimate, and dynamic relationship with each and every individual on this planet; throughout all of time and history even time and history not yet experienced.

When Jesus instructs his disciples that they must take up their cross and follow him, he is not asking them to assent to a systematic set of beliefs and creeds. Rather, he is inviting them to relationship. A relationship that is personal, intimate, and founded in love and trust. A relationship, which our creeds and catechism are designed to remind and to inspire us to carry on this earthly pilgrimage living as holy men and women of God.
I ask you this day as you are preparing yourself to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, to recall your own personal relationship with Jesus. Are you carrying your cross and following him, or have you allowed the distractions of life to divert your path?

The distractions, I remind you, are unavoidable. We cannot prevent them from occurring because they are real. They wound, they cause pain, and, if we allow them, they will pull us away from the path to which we have been called. The path of following Jesus, giving him all of who we are, so that we may reap the rewards which he promises to those who don’t abandon him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that God has called you. Called you to love him, to serve him, and most importantly he has called you to a relationship with him. A relationship that does not disappoint. A relationship which will preserve you and fill you with hope, joy, and love. Today, recall that relationship and allowed yourself to be filled up so you can continue in that relationship.

We can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7: 31-37

As some of you may have already heard me say, almost every Sunday since the beginning of this liturgical year, the Gospel of St. Mark is my favorite Gospel. St. Mark’s use of direct language, the attention given to minute detail, and the intentional and deliberate revelation of Jesus as the Son of God resonate and connect with me in a unique and personal way. Today’s Gospel is the perfect example of these three characteristics, and once again, you, my brothers and sisters, get to listen to me blather on about my affection for this particular Gospel.

We heard in today’s Gospel the clear and concise description of Jesus’ journey from one location to another. We also learn that Jesus’ fame precedes him from region to region as he is immediately greeted by people who bringing him a deaf man to be healed. Mark describes the method by which Jesus healed the afflicted man and then Jesus cautioned those who witnessed this healing to share with no one what they have observed. All of this could be used as a summary and example of the writing style and intent and purpose of St. Mark’s Gospel.

However, as much as I do enjoy a good literary analysis of the Gospel, it does me little good if I ignore the truth, and the relevance, and the message. It is easy for me, and even perhaps all of you, my fellow pilgrims on this journey of salvation, to consume ourselves with the process only to lose ourselves by forgetting the purpose. The Gospel message for us today is exactly that reminder; we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, must never get so caught up in the methods of our faith and forget the purpose and reason for our faith.

Today’s Gospel of Mark describes what happens as soon as Jesus enters a new place, “And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.” I draw your attention to the fact that Mark describes them as “people” and not followers of Jesus. Those who brought the deaf man, a man with need, were not part of the inner circle. Throughout the Gospel, Mark is deliberate in identifying the “followers of Jesus”, meaning those who traveled with him, and those who were not part of the inner circle.

When Jesus entered the district of Decapolis his name and his reputation were already known. The people had heard of Jesus but had not yet seen Jesus. They possessed a hope. A hope that came from hearing, a hope that came through the witness and testimony of others, a hope that was the result of someone telling them about Jesus.

At risk of offending, I dare say that we, modern-day followers of Jesus, have, at times, been at best lackadaisical and at worst derelict, in our responsibility of telling others about the Jesus. It is not uncommon to hear, when gathered together in and amongst our circles of influence, such things as, “If only the priest would go visit so and so”, or “If Deacon would just stop by”, or “If only the church offered this program or that event then they would come to know Jesus.”

If we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, have learned nothing but one thing from the revelations of abuse and the subsequent cover-ups, let it be this; we can no longer afford to vacate, ignore, or diminish our responsibility to be holy men and women of God who proclaim by our words and our deeds that Jesus Christ is the cure to a hurting, lost, and needy world. May we no longer find excuse or reason to abandon our calling to bring others to Jesus. From the onset the mission of the Church is to be a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Savior of Humankind. That mission has not been revoked nor has it been removed.

The final point today is found in Jesus himself. Notice that Mark is very specific and very deliberate in his description of the healing Jesus performed on the deaf man. Jesus first brought the man apart from the crowd. He then placed his fingers in his ears, spit, and touched the deaf man’s tongue. His groan was audible, and he spoke words of healing. I ask you, did Jesus perform these actions because they were necessary for him to heal? No. Jesus performed these actions because it was what was necessary for the man to believe.

Let us never forget that Jesus Christ wants to have a real and tangible relationship with each and every one of us. He wants us to know him personally, vividly, and intimately. Our faith is not a faith rooted in ritual, rite, or recitation. It is a faith rooted in the very person of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows us intimately and he desires us to know him intimately.

As we come before this altar today, I ask you to examine yourself in the light of today’s Gospel and recall the faces and the names of the individuals who the Holy Spirit has brought to your attention. Individuals who need you to be a witness of the healing power of Jesus. Individuals who need you, not priests, deacons, nor programs, but need you to show them Jesus.

In addition, I ask you to examine your own relationship with Jesus. Is he as real and as tangible as he was when you first met him? Or, has time, pressure, discouragement, and sin caused you to confuse him with your own expectations and conditions.

Finally, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I say this to you as a fellow pilgrim needing your encouragement as desperately as I desire to encourage you. We shall, together, one with another, reach the prize which awaits us all as we endeavor to be live out our mission and our calling.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite…

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

In today’s 1st reading in Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people of God to not only hear the statues and decrees of God but to also live by them. He issues a challenge to live as God commands and affirms that the God of their fathers is far superior to all the others. He states, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Moses is pointing out two unique aspects of the Law of God. The first, that God desires to be near to us. He is not uncaring, distant, or disinterested observer of human activity; rather, God is loving and near, near enough to hear the voice of his people. Secondly, God’s law is just. It’s precepts and guidelines not only prescribe how one should interact with him, but also how one should interact with others.

In today’s 2nd reading, St. James continues Moses’s exhortation to the people of God as directs, “be doers of the word and not hearers only.” He then provides a very specific caveat, stating “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” His instructions to the early church reiterate the message of Moses that the true measure of faith in God is manifested in actions, and most especially actions directed towards those who lack status and a voice.

Finally, in today’s Gospel, Jesus chastises the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy. Using the words of the prophet Isaiah he confronts their make-believe faith, stating, “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. He then calls his followers to him and clearly professes the following truth, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Jesus emphatically makes clear that faith in God is not a procedure or methodology. One cannot achieve righteousness by their own accord; rather, righteousness is given through transformation, a transformation of the very inner-self.

The 1st century Palestinian Jew, at least those who were obsessed with righteousness before God, were consumed with ritual and appearances. They had confused the decrees and statues handed down to them through Moses with oral traditions and practices. Their assumptions about what it meant to be righteous before God were impregnated with self-conceived illusions of piety. They wore their faith like they wore their clothing; as a means to cover and communicate status.

When Jesus stated that “nothing that enters one from the outside can defile”, he was revealing to his disciples the essential truth of the Gospel: that no one is without need of salvation. That no person is righteous by their own actions. Righteousness before God is not achieved through ritual and custom, rather righteousness is only achieved through the gift of God’s grace given to those who believe and are baptized in faith.

In the darkness of this present age and in the division it has created, a division present even within our own church, the message of Jesus Christ, our need for salvation, comes to us today as both a beacon of hope and as a call to repentance. As Moses exhorted the Hebrew people, and as James reminded the early church, and as Jesus instructed his disciples, faith, true faith in God, transforms the person from the inside out.

Today, as men and women of God, we must strive to live out our faith in ways that encourage and unite the mystical Body of Christ. We can no longer afford to let division and difference separate us from the reality that we, and those around us, are in desperate need of the transforming power of God’s grace poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit. It is time that we remove from our language the words of division such as “liberal” and “conservative” recognizing that now more than ever we are called to be first disciples of Jesus Christ, and second, servants of one another. Whether we prioritize the exercise of our faith in the service of the poor or on bended knee in front of the blessed sacrament, we are all called to be transformed by the grace given to us through Eucharist and the Sacraments of the Church.

This day I ask you all, myself included, to pause and reflect, allow the perpetual light of the Word of God to reveal our empty practices and customs of performance-based piety. As you come to the altar of God this day do so in the full awareness of your need for salvation. And, as you leave the altar of God this day, do so in the full awareness of those around you who need you to be a witness of that salvation.

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.”

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. John 6:60-69

Found in all three of today’s readings are what I like to call “Christian Chestnuts.” Phrases or sayings from Scripture that we, as followers of Christ, share with one another typically in times of difficulty or struggle and are intended to encourage and uplift. These phrases oftentimes can be found on decorative wall art in our homes or on cards we share with one another on special occasions. They are part of our vocabulary and though the truth’s they contain are powerful and relevant, oftentimes their familiarity can diminish their meaning.

In today’s first reading we hear Joshua’s final address to the people of Israel as he challenges them and reminds them that serving God is a choice, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” In St. Paul the Apostle’s Letter to Ephesians he admonishes, “husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.” And in today’s Gospel, in response to Jesus’s inquiry regarding his disciple’s commitment, we hear Peter say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

In these words, the challenge of Joshua, the admonition of St. Paul, and the profession of Peter, we find the elemental truth of our faith, that faith is first and foremost a choice. A choice to believe in a Truth that is quite contrary to the world and culture in which we live. A choice to love and serve with a sacrificial love that goes beyond reason. A choice to hope in something which we cannot yet see nor entirely grasp. Our faith is a choice. A continual choice that does not come without struggle, doubt, and sacrifice.

In light of recent events (I am referring to the Pennsylvania Attorneys General report on abuse in the Roman Catholic Church) I find today’s theme of choice, especially as it is presented in the words of today’s Gospel, particularly relevant. Once again we, as members of the Body of Christ, are confronted with the fallibility, sinfulness, and intentional harm caused by men who were and are supposed to represent the very best of us.

I have read and heard about the challenges that many are now facing as they struggle with the choice to continue to support a Church that has yet to fully disclose and rectify her secret sins. I myself struggle with the disappointment, anger, and frustration associated with this recent exposure of sin and its systematic denial. Yet, I encourage you all to find hope, just as I have, in Peter’s response to Jesus Christ, “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Today’s Gospel is the last in the series of the Bread of Life Discourse found in the Gospel of John. For the past five Sundays our Gospel has centered on the revelation that Jesus is the Bread of Life and today we read about the disciples’ reaction to this revelation. For some, his proposal that those who follow him must eat his flesh and drink his blood, was too difficult to understand and too difficult to follow. Consequently, as the Gospel writer so succinctly points out, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” However, Peter, speaking for those who remained, answers Jesus’s call by simply stating, “to whom shall we go?… we have come to believe.”

Our challenge today is to emulate the belief and the words of Peter. Recognizing that the struggles and difficulties that we face, as the Body of Christ, are a result of sin, of which none of us are innocent. We must endeavor to live out our faith boldly, confidently, and humbly recognizing that none of us, no not one, merits eternal life. Rather, as so pointedly became evident in the last few weeks, all of us are dependent upon the forgiveness of God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, given to us, his Body and Blood, so that we may live in fellowship with him and with one another.

I would like to share with you the words I shared with a companion earlier this week as we shared a cup of coffee. I was asked, “How? How can you still remain Catholic?” I responded, “Because all of the Gospel, it’s message in its fullness, is contained in the doctrine and the teachings of the Church and I cannot leave that.”

Now, if you would be so kind to let me expound on those words, I would like to add, It would be wrong to allow sin, no matter the sin and no matter the person, to drive us away from Eucharist, which is in fact, the very remedy for our sin. Do not let us suppose for one moment that anyone here in this place is without sin. However, let us not forget that through the forgiveness offered to us, through Jesus’s life, passion, death, and resurrection we too will find hope in the fulfillment of the promises of Christ offered to us through his Body and Blood.

I would ask each and every one of you, myself included, that we do not allow this latest revelation of scandal and sin deter us from our endeavor to live as holy men and women of God. We, now more than ever, have a responsibility to live our faith vibrantly and visibly in a corrupt world. Yet, some of you may be asking, “What can we do, the people of God, to facilitate change in our church and in our world?” I propose that we accept the challenge of Joshua and confidently proclaim in our homes, our church, and in our public spaces, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

What does it meant to be sheep without a shepherd?

16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of Mark 6:30-34

What does it meant to be “sheep without a shepherd?” Does it mean to be lost? Does it mean to be at risk, or in danger? At the mercy of the environment, in want, or in need? Does it mean to be without purpose or direction?

I presume that we all have had moments in our life when we have felt void of purpose or lacked direction. Times or periods when we go through the motions, act out of habit or routine. We, and again I presume, have all had time in our lives when we felt threatened; the wolves of life were circling, snapping their jaws and filling our ears with their growly threats. Moments in our life when fear gripped us, controlled us, and caused us to do and say things that we later regretted and wished we could have taken back.

Maybe you will disagree with me, however, I would suggest that might just be what it feels like to be a sheep without a shepherd; to be lost, fearful, discouraged, and in persistent doubt. To be a sheep without a shepherd is to live a life at risk, constantly on alert, always on the lookout for the next threat.

Jesus, after his disciples returned from their missionary journeys, instructed them to get into a boat so that they may get some rest. They headed to a desolate place, something that Jesus did himself, in order that they may refresh, restore, and prepare themselves. Yet, that isn’t what happened.

Imagine if you will the scene. Jesus and his disciples traveling in a boat and thousands of people walking along the hillside and shoreline tracking their progress. People who, maybe only hours before, were at their homes, doing their chores, engaged in their work, going about their day just as they did the previous days before, and were now traveling to a desolate place so that they may have an opportunity to see and hear Jesus. What caused them to leave their daily routine and go out into the wilderness? They did so, because they were people in need.

Some in need of physical healing, yes. There were those suffering from illness, disease, and deformities hoping for relief and a cure. But not all were suffering from illness or disease. What about those who were physically fit, lacking a deformity, or physical limitation? Why were they leaving their routine and seeking Jesus?

They came because they needed what we all need from Jesus: complete healing. Men and women who needed their sins to be forgiven and to be restored. Men and women who had been living their lives, going about the motions, yet, lacking in security, care, direction, and purpose. They were sheep without a shepherd.

This event in the Gospel of Mark signals a change in Jesus’s ministry. He never again enters into a synagogue to teach. His ministry goes public, so to speak. People surrounded him in the marketplaces and searched him out. His popularity grew, as did the crowds, but so did the resentment and scorn of the Pharisees and other religious rulers of his time.

Something happened to Jesus that day on a boat, as he saw the large crowd of people awaiting his arrival. As he looked upon these people, these sheep without a shepherd, his heart was moved with pity. He saw a group of people with their needs, their wounds, their despair, and lack of direction and he loved them.

In the verse, the Greek word translated as “heart” is not meant in the sense of an actual biological beating heart. His biological heart wasn’t moved. Rather, this word could more accurately lead to mean in English as “gut”; or the seat of our emotions. When we use the phrase, “I feel it in my gut” we typically are describing a feeling that is found in our very most inner self. That place down deep inside each and every one of us in which resides the very core of our humanity; the very essence of who we are. When Jesus’s heart was moved with pity, it was his very most inner self, the very core of all that he was, and is even to this day, which caused him to respond and to desire to shepherd his sheep.

Jesus’s love for you today is in no way diminished or lessened. Just as he looked upon those tired, misguided, and desperately lost people, and was so moved to responded to their needs, so too does he look and respond to you, here this day, in front of this altar.

We too, at times, act like sheep without a shepherd. We too have gotten lost in our sin and misguided intentions. We too have been surrounded by wolves, subsequently threatened to scatter, and have felt abandoned and forgotten. Yet, do not let us forget that Jesus loves us and his love for us is at the very center of who he is, for it is that love which calls us…calls us to him, who is our shepherd.