BREAKING OPEN THE WORD
The Ministry entrusted to me by virtue of Ordination, is to break open the Word. I am not a writer as such, I am a proclaimer of God’s Word. Therefore the style of my realhomilie is a preaching style. I do apologise for any typos…they are so had to find at times……. I pray that God’s Word finds a home in you.
Dear One and All,
The Gospel for this Sunday is a fairly long discourse from Jesus, on His understanding of the Good Shepherd, which He claims was given to Him by His Father.
Again we need to remember that the 4th Gospel was written to a mainly Greek speaking community, and this version of the Good News was written about 100AD, some 70 years after the Resurrection of the Lord. At the same time, we need to be aware that the Johannine community who weaved this Gospel knew the Greek mind, and were very well versed in the Old Testament, and had picked up other various strands and words, sayings, miracles and discourses from the early community at that time. The Gospel Community also developed a Catechetical mode of delivery, whilst inserting elements of the Christian Community’s reflection on the Jesus of History, and now, the Christ of Faith.
Before we immerse ourselves in today’s Gospel, let’s have a look at the understanding of a Shepherd, and sheep around the time of Our Lord.
Generally a Shepherd would have about 10 – 20 sheep at the most; he would have known each sheep by name. He also would have known the individualities of each sheep. In our days, we have a special relationship with our pet animals. Most people have pet animals of one kind or another and if their House caught on fire, or some tragedy took place, the Dog, or Cat, or Bird would be one of the first acts of rescue. (even before our ipad or iPhone 🙂 Just as our dog knows when we are upset, angry, fearful or sad, the dog does something about it. I can speak best about Dog’s, because I have one and her name is Rosie, a Tibetan spaniel…..14 years old! This dog was my Mum’s pride and joy! The dog knows a lot about us, and responds to us as it learns over a period of time from how re relate to it. We, who are Dog lovers, have an instinct which enables us to love and know our Dog; so much so that we can even predict what our Dog will do given certain scenarios. On the other hand the dog learns, trust and is faithful to us….right to the time of our death. In our dog’s case, Rosie kissed my Mum on her cheek the moment our Mum died!
My dear Mum Nancy, (recently deceased), with our Rosie.
So, the relationship between our Pet animals and ourselves is a two way street. Let’s transfer this experience to the Good Shepherd and His Sheep.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows all about us, and can predict with accuracy what we might do given certain circumstances. The Sheep listens to the voice which of their Shepherd with alert ears! Within the voice of the Shepherd, the Sheep know what is happening; the immediately respond when called by name. The Sheep knows through experience that if it gets caught up in brambles, or injures it leg, that the Shepherd will come looking for it, leaving the others to be secure in each other’s company. No matter what the weather is like, or time of day or night, the Shepherd looks until he finds his sheep. What does he do to the injured sheep? He speaks to the sheep first…..his voice is heard by the sheep, and then he gets hold of the front legs and back legs and swings it over his head so that it rests on his neck, and held securely by it legs. The shepherd returns to the sheepfold, happy that he has found the lost sheep and it would seem that the sheep in the fold announce their happiness through bleating and other kinds of noises.
Let’s look into the Gospel passage…….look at the very first words! I am the good shepherd: These words for Greeks would have knocked them over straightaway! In English they do not have the same impact as it would for Greek speaking and Greek listening audiences…..’I am’, in Greek is the Divine Name. Remember when the Soldiers were looking for Jesus on the night before he was crucified? Jesus says to them, “who are you looking for?” they say, “Jesus of Nazareth” Jesus responds with “I am He”! What happened to the soldiers upon hearing this response? They fell to the ground…..because in Greek, Jesus uttered the Divine name! But let’s not stop there; we must remember that the actions of the hearers in John’s Gospel and the Words that Jesus speaks, are all expressions of a greater plan….namely the way this Gospel was written by a community who knew the Greek mind, and to an audience of Greek speaking people who then knew that this Jesus of Nazareth is in fact…..The Christ!
“I am who am”, said the Angel of the Lord, to Moses.
Now, as we proceed into this passage, we see Jesus outlining the behaviour of the Good Shepherd to His Sheep, which is the early Church, The Way, The Christian Community, and The Church today! Looking back into Salvation History, the Johannine Community was about enabling its hearers to come to a faith-insight response, to the living Good Shepherd; Christ the Lord, alive within His people. That invitation to a faith-insight, can only happen when the Breath of God gently whirls in and through the community. If and when this invitation is accepted by the hearer(s) it is the Holy Spirit who activates a positive response in the hearer(s).
Back to the first line of the passage, the ‘laying down one’s life’ most certainly points to the Crucified Jesus who embodies all the characteristics and the relational elements of The Lord God. This loving kindness (hesed) permeates the whole of the Old Testament, and now is so accurately and faithfully embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Compared to the hired shepherd, or Rent-a-Shepherd, there is not the commitment to the sheep like the ‘marriage covenant’ between the Lord God and His people.’ Our God’ is a God who saves! God hears the cry of His people’s tears, and offers them Salvation…..the hired person or other people who can offer us lots bounty and security, are not in the race when it comes to our God’s faithfulness to His people, and he willing accepts back into His arms the unfaithful Bride. In Biblical language, the Bridegroom is God and we His people are the Bride. This does not indicate nor does it acclaim the God is a male; to the contrary, in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, the Lord God speaks in the feminine form.
Notice that in the Gospel Jesus declares that ……’I am the good shepherd’ and this is followed by a play on the verb ‘to know’. Here the Lord is making it clear that His knowledge of us is close, special, intimate and non-threatening. But there is also an underlying outreach to all humanity in this passage, a kind of missionary activity which the Christian community who embodies the Good News, who experience the Risen Lord, living according to The Word, and celebrating it in Eucharistic communities……this is an offer to all people, with the assurances that if the hearers far and wide listen, it will be because it is the ‘emet and hesed of the Lord God. In short, this means that it is the living truth and faithful covenant love which only comes from the Good Shepherd. Conversely, the hired man, who has no commitment to the individual sheep or the sheepfold, and is scared off by the howl of a Wolf does not embody the emet and the hesed, of the Good Shepherd; the Lord God.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Finally, what about us? What stirs you about today’s Gospel messages?
In order for us to be faithful and responsible to the Mission entrusted to us by The Good Shepherd, what needs to be ‘changed’ in our daily lives? Do we have time to recognise The Good Shepherd in those around us? Do we dare to think that some people in our world are not worthy to be in the big sheepfold of the Good Shepherd? Do we have time to smile and warmly greet people, even if we don’t know them? (I don’t mean going ‘over the top’ with it,) but whatever is acceptable in the particular cultural circumstances where we live. In any culture in the world, there is no room to ignore people!
TODAY IS VOCATION SUNDAY: LET US PRAY:-
Lord, your harvest is in need of many labourers; we pray that faith-filled men and women, will respond to your call, in setting out into the deep and being ignited by your invitation to let go, and respond to you in the Consecrated life, Diaconate and Priesthood. We your people pray, that your labourers will be good shepherds, and faithful foot washers, who will resist the temptations of temporal honour, egocentric power and glory. May they wholeheartedly be prepared to smell like the sheep, as they immerse themselves in your servant ministry. This is our urgent prayer at this time in our history, through Christ Our Lord, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Amen
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realhomilies are for real people!
I have been proclaiming God’s Word for 43 years, and over that time I have heard many people ask for down to earth material that can be applicable in their daily lives in the Homily! People have often said to me when I go to a new Parish, “I hope that you won’t talk too long at the Homily.” I usually say in return that I can’t stand Ministers of the Gospel going on and on and going around in circlesJ”
If you are looking for academic material in my realhomilies, you won’t find it here. You had better Google somewhere else.
When I was in priestly formation many years ago at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Victoria, I was inspired by the Professors who taught us Sacred Scripture. I owe my deepest heartfelt thanks to Frs. Robert Crotty, CP, Jerome Crowe,CP, Angelo O’Hagin OFM and Fr Greg Manly,CP
These men not only inspired a few generations of Students, but they ignited a flame in me, which seeks to be always curious about God’s Word and to hunger for it. It is this appetite and inspiration to proclaim God’s Word that drives me in my senior years to share these realhomilies with you.
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