22 July 2018

When the Shepherd becomes a Wolf

16th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Why does Jesus begin teaching the crowd gathered in front of him? The great medieval teacher of the faith, Thomas Aquinas, argues that knowledge is received by the hungry mind according to its hunger. How and what we eat depends on what we are hungry for. So, if you are hungry for a fervent, fiery lesson in the truth of Christ, then pursue his truth with fervor and fire. If you long for the meat and potato facts of the faith, then ask for the facts of the faith! If, however, you want spiritual junk food, then just go hang around on the corner for a while, a teacher who speaks falsely will be along soon enough. And he or she will be more than delighted to feed you your fill. Those in the crowd – the one chasing Jesus around – they do not know the truth. They have no teacher to teach them the truth. So, Jesus takes pity on these shepherdless sheep and teaches them. These days – with cable TV, the internet, social media, movies – teachers abound. All sorts of lessons are being taught to children and adults alike. What's worse is that some of these false teachers are shepherds. And some of the lessons they teach are not of Christ.

Listen again to what Jeremiah says about false shepherds, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture. . .You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.” How does a false shepherd mislead his flock? How does the flock become scattered? There are as many ways to mislead God's people as there are those who mislead. And as many ways for God's people to be scattered. One prominent method for misleading the flock is to fail to set an example of holiness. What's the saying? The fish rots from the head down. If the shepherd doesn't pursue holiness, why would the flock? Another method to mislead God's people is to preach and teach the Zeitgeist; that is, to ignore the Holy Spirit of God and proclaim the Spirit of the Age. Fail to preach and teach Scripture. Focus on politics or pop-psychology or whatever secular cause is trending right now. Perhaps the most common trap for the shepherd is set by a perverse understanding of his own job description – become aloof, distant, detached from the flock; lord authority over the flock like a weapon, seek privilege and prestige, look out for opportunities to climb the ecclesial ladder; ignore the lost and stolen. The flock scatters when the shepherd becomes a wolf.

Thanks be to God that our Shepherd is the Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus! Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, and religious will fail us. We've known this most vividly since 2002. Those appointed our shepherds are men and women – fragile, wounded, subject to temptation and familiar with sin – are no different now than they were 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 2,000 years ago. Men and women fail us. Mothers and fathers, pastors and teachers, popes and politicians. But Christ and his Bride, the Church, cannot fail us. The Good News cannot fail us. The cross and the resurrection cannot fail us. Another scandal involving a cardinal. Another priest arrested. A deacon credibly accused. And Christ stands untouched. Christ stands unshaken; he stands with us, teaching us the truth. And that truth is that God the Father freely offers His infinite mercy to all repentant sinners. Christ made this universal offer on the cross with his body and his blood. No evil shepherd can change that. Do not be misled by scandal – “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. . .He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

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