Homily for Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
We are now in the last week wherein the Church asks us to consider the words of several Hebrew prophets. Our time with the prophets over the last eight weeks ends with the prophet Ezekiel. Today we hear him speaking to the religious leaders of the children of Israel. He reminds them that they have been commissioned by God to be the shepherds of God’s children. Using language that enumerates the duties of shepherds, he condemns them because they did not have any regard for the weak, the sick, the injured, or the lost.
The image of the shepherd in the Hebrew Scriptures presents us with two different sets of cultural considerations. Because these men and women were forced by their job to remain out in the wilderness as they pastured their sheep, they were unable to fulfill the daily requirements imposed upon the Jewish people by the Law, in particular the precepts that governed food and its preparation. Consequently, shepherds were considered on the fringes of Jewish society and culture. Like marginalized people in our own times, they were often looked down upon and regarded with disdain. At the same time, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures both look to the image of the shepherd as a way to describe God’s expectations of those in leadership positions. Jesus refers to self as the noble or good shepherd. The psalms, one of which we use as our responsorial today, call God their shepherd,
Our Holy Father, Francis, has reminded priests of their responsibility and suggested that they should have the smell of the sheep upon them. He has also consistently called upon political and civil leaders to be concerned about the poorest among us. Within the history of the Church, many communities of consecrated religious have been involved in apostolic work that reaches out to the marginalized – to the weak, the sick, the injured, and those left behind while others prosper. The corporal works of mercy have become the mandate of a few rather than the way of life for all Christians. This is not to say that we should be patting ourselves on the back because we may have devoted our lives to this work. Indeed, we have only done what we are expected to do.
In this respect, the Gospel parable for today brings us to the realization that it is not so much about what we do but who we are. As he has said so many times before, Jesus reminds us that if we wish to be first, we must make ourselves last; if we wish to be great, we must make ourselves least.