Homily for 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2009
What have you done and taught this week? What has been happening in your life these past seven days since we were here for the Eucharist? In all you do have you been aware that as a Christian you were preaching the Kingdom to your children and family and work mates? What did you teach your children? What message did your words have this week? Were they words which spoke of hope and forgiveness, justice and compassion. Words that at the same time call for a change in one's life?
We are not told what the apostles did and taught in the passage we heard from the Gospel today. Jesus had sent them on a mission after which they returned and gathered around him. They told Jesus what the;y did and taught but Mark does not tell us. The important issue Mark is relating is how Jesus cares for them as they begin their mission as apostles. He calls them away to a lonely place so they can recreate themselves after their efforts. This care of Jesus for his friends only highlights what a disappointment they had been for him in their lack of understanding. He does not give up on them but insisted on trusting them still. In sharing his mission they would also share his fate. That is what he needs to help them grasp. The rejection they experienced as they went from town to town foreshadows his own rejection. He had to prepare them for the worst.
Similarly, we do not broadcast everything that has happened to us. Rather, we come here to Mass to tell Christ and be refreshed ourselves. The events of the week can grind us down. Hearing the tragedies and failures of our world, be it bombings on Jakarta or the fall from grace of someone like Gordon Nuttal, can drag us down as well. The daily dramas of family life can build up inside us so we lose perspective and in doing so lose a little hope and a little faith.
Even so Jesus does not turn away from the crowds who follow him and who would interrupt him and the apostles in their rest. He responds to their need as a good shepherd would. In the ritual of the Eucharist he does that still.
Paul has a wonderful phrase in the second reading: "In his own person Jesus killed the hostility." He is not speaking of any hostility Jesus holds within himself. Paul is speaking of the hostility between Jew and Gentile specifically. This was a division created by the Law of Moses itself. That was not its intention. But its effect in how it was practised created an enormous gulf between Jew and Gentile. But it's wider implication for all of us is that Jesus is creating a new humanity or a new man in contrast to the old man Adam. That is how Paul tries to describe it. In Christ we also can kill the hostility that exists between us and those who are estranged from us. How did he kill it? At one level simply by his non violent response to attacks on him. There can be all sorts of walls and barriers between us. They need not be hostile ones. We can kill that division by allowing a space for the other person to approach us. That is one of the things we were wrestling with at the "Helping Hands" meeting on Thursday night. We unconsciously erect invisible walls in our lives. We sometimes don't even know those walls are there until some crisis comes and we have to face the challenge of breaching the wall. Sometimes, too, we deliberately create divisions by our hatred, bitterness, resentment and so on. These to can be overcome in Christ.
Mark shows that Jesus is the good shepherd that Jeremiah looked forward to in our first reading today. He will lead the people into good pastures where none shall be lost. The Second Vatican Council used the image of the sheepfold as one of its metaphors to describe the Church:
"The Church is a sheepfold whose one and necessary door is Christ (Jn 10:1-10). She is a flock of which God Himself foretold that He would be the Shepherd (cf. Is 40:11; Ez 34:11 ff.). Although guided by human shepherds, her sheep are nevertheless ceaselessly led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of Shepherds (cf. Jn 10:11; 1 Pet 5:4), who gave His life for the sheep (cf. Jn 10:11-15)."
Vatican II, Constitution on the Church (1964) 6
Baptism is the beginning of this life and mission for each of us. It is the gate to the sheepfold. Through it the grace of God breaks through our limitations, our hostilities, our forgetfulness, so that we are made one in Christ and see each other as brother and sister. And when at last we come to the Lord's table we remember once again who we are.