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Comfort and Challenge

Comfort and challenge.  My homily today will pivot on those two words: comfort and challenge. If you are close to Jesus he will comfort you and he will challenge you.  I will begin with the comfort part.

 

Jesus was a Galilean and Galilee is a long ways from Jerusalem.  It took Jesus and his disciples three days to make the journey.  While Jesus was walking along that path he saw how the shepherds were taking care of their sheep.  Every day the shepherds were leading their sheep to new pastures.  Professional shepherds in the Holy Land tell us that they must find fresh pastures for their sheep every day.  Otherwise the sheep will eat weeds and poisonous plants that are not good for them. 

 

The shepherds were leading their sheep to pools of still water.  The shepherds say that this is necessary because the sheep will not drink from a stream of running water.  The movement of the water scares them.  They will drink only from pools of still water.

 

The shepherds carry a staff to protect the sheep.  They use the staff to hit the wolves and the wild dogs that attack the sheep.  Likewise, the shepherds sleep in the sheepfold at night so that they can scare off the wolves and wild dogs.  Before going to bed the shepherds rub oil into the wounds which the sheep have received by sticking their noses into briars and brambles and thistles. 

 

Jesus saw how the shepherds were so very close to their sheep…staying close to them day and night.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus says to us, “I am like the shepherd - I am very close to my people and I will always be close to them.”  During his public ministry Jesus was like a shepherd because he was compassionate and always with his people.  He was compassionate in that he visited those suffering from poor health whenever he visited a town.  And we know that he was close to the people because he was always reaching out to touch them.

 

When they brought forward a man who was blind, Jesus touched his eyes and placed his hand on his head and he was cured.  When they brought forward a leper, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him and he was healed.  When a group of parents brought their children to Jesus, he touched them and blessed them.  When Simon Peter’s mother-in-law had a terrible fever, Jesus touched her hand and the fever went away.

 

What Jesus did with his hands was very significant.  His ministry with his hands helps us to remember that He is always in touch with his people.  He was comforting but he was also challenging.

 

His challenges came in his commanding his disciples to be more loving.  He said, “Love those who cannot pay you back.  Love your neighbor without counting the cost or seeking reward.  Love to the point where you lay down your life for your friends.  Take up your cross daily and follow me.”  And that’s where the rejection comes in.  Following Jesus frequently leads to rejection. 

 

In today’s first reading Saint Peter and Saint John were rejected by the Sanhedrin because they brought healing to a man who was lame.  Peter said to them, “You can’t stop me from following Jesus.  He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  Yes.  He is the cornerstone of the new covenant…the covenant of love.  And I will follow him even if it means that you reject me.”

 

In much the same way, people are going to reject us today if we become agents of concern for others.  Sometimes people get mad at us when we proclaim the Gospel of Life.  The Gospel of Life that says that every person has great dignity from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.  The Gospel of Life that says that we treat every person with respect.  When we proclaim the Gospel of Life, we might meet with rejection.

 

How should we respond?  Jesus says “When people will not listen to you, shake the dust from your sandals and move on.”  Move on to other places and trust that you will be the leaven in the dough which will eventually cause the whole community to rise to new heights of ethical behavior.  The leavening will not happen immediately.  But then we don’t need immediate results.  All we need to do is be faithful.

 

God is calling us to be the modern day disciples and we need to give a faithful response to that call.  We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.

 

I will close by calling to mind my two key words: comfort and challenge.  Jesus is comforting us by being the good shepherd and staying with us at all times.  And he is challenging us.  He challenges us to bring the Gospel to world in which we live.

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