HOMILY – THE MOST SACRED HEART OF JESUS
Week 12 05 – Year I
(Ezk 34:11-16; Ps 23; Rm 5:5-11; Lk 15:3-7)
Do you recall the first words Jesus preached, in the Gospel of Mark?
Those words are “believe” and “repent” and they relate well to the readings today, inviting us to both believe in Jesus as our caring shepherd and to receive his love through repentance.
It begins with Psalm 23, reminding us because the Lord is our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want. Our Shepherd God guides us, anoints and surrounds us with goodness and mercy.
Ezekiel in the first reading forcefully drives home the reality that not only will God be our shepherd, but God will also seek out the lost sheep, bring us back home to God’s self, heal our wounds and nourish us with justice.
The gospel of Luke then personalizes all this in Jesus, who is our good shepherd, who personally goes after the one sheep that has strayed, and rejoices when he has found that lost sheep.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul develops this theme of our God who loves and shepherds us in Christ – who died for our sins, who has justified us and reconciled us to God. More, his Holy Spirit waits to “pour God’s love into our hearts.”
This is where those first two words preached by Jesus come in. All we have to do in response to all this is to first of all believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the Risen Lord who is now our Good Shepherd.
Building on that bedrock of faith, our next step is to “repent.” The Greek word for that is metanoia, which has a much deeper meaning than in English. It comes from the Greek words “meta” meaning highest, biggest, greatest, and “nous” meaning mind or intellect. The basic meaning to “repent” then is to put on our highest mind, to think our best most positive thoughts, to act in the best way possible, to be the best person we can be.
I believe it also means letting go of all negativity and wrong-doing, and opening ourselves up to receiving all that love as forgiveness and healing our Good Shepherd wants to pour into us through the Holy Spirit. The Messiah who came to redeem and sanctify, to forgive and to heal, to justify and to reconcile us to God, is waiting to pour love into us.
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. That is really another way of saying that the heart of Jesus, the heart of our Good Shepherd, is love and nothing but love, coming to us best in the form of forgiveness of all our sins, and the healing of all our painful emotions, negative attitudes and even our addictions.
There are two interesting elements to the teaching of Jesus about a shepherd who would leave ninety-nine sheep out in the wilderness while he goes searching for one lost lamb (what in reality a shepherd probably would never do). The first has to do with the number. One hundred symbolizes perfection, completion, wholeness. When one is missing, the flock is incomplete, like a puzzle would be unfinished as long as one piece is missing, or a family banquet incomplete as long as one estranged member of the family is out of touch. God wants all of us, all of God’s sheep, to be back in the flock, and God will not rest until that is accomplished.
The other is the question that arises – does God love sinners more than righteous people? The real answer to that question is – there are no righteous people – we are all sinners, we have all committed harmatia– fallen short of who God created us to be. We all have to repent, do metanoia– change, and put on our highest mind.
John’s wife called me in the middle of the night to ask if her husband could come over to see me. He was a recovering alcoholic, but was driving her crazy, as he was depressed, agitated, miserable, and could not sleep, even after seeing multiple counselors and doctors, and being on sleeping pills and anti-depressants.
As we talked through the night, it turned out he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous thirteen years earlier, but had never really worked the Steps, so he was actually on a thirteen-year dry drunk – sober but not really healing or experiencing any transformation. He had done a superficial Step Five, because he was afraid to admit the real truth of all the wrong-doing in his life. I mentioned to him the Needle Gate I thought was in Jerusalem that a camel could go through only on its knees and that it was time for him to be humble, come clean and do a sincere Step Five (later in the Holy City I discovered that gate did not exist). That concept worked, however, as he opened up, did his first sincere Step Five (admit to God, another person and one’s self the exact nature of one’s wrongs), cleaned house and celebrated a sacramental reconciliation. He walked out of our residence at 5:30 am a free man, and talked about that experience at Round Ups for years. He had truly believed in God’s power and love, did metanoia, and experienced God’s love as forgiveness and healing. He was the lost sheep brought back by the Good Shepherd.
The Eucharist is our experience of Jesus the Good Shepherd loving us through forgiveness and healing, through Word and Sacrament, right now. May our celebration not only pour God’s love into us, but empower us to go out and be good shepherds to one another.