Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Epiphany of the Lord Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

A Thankless Job

In the 1950s in many parts of the southern Philippines when the priest was about to give his sermon (it was not yet the custom then to call this a "homily") many men would go out of the church building to hold a conversation among themselves and smoke a cigarette or two. When they heard that the sermon was ended they would enter the church again.

Such was the situation in many churches when Latin was still the language used in the Mass. Those men of course did not understand the Latin and when it was time for them to listen to something that was intelligible to them either in their dialect or in English, they would leave the church building to do some gossiping among themselves.

The women would remain in church listening to what the priest was saying in his sermon which could sometimes last an hour or so.

But that situation did not last forever. The short courses in Christianity (Cursillos en Cristianidad in Spanish) spread throughout the land and people began to understand more of their faith. Then the reform of Vatican Council II came with the Mass in the language of the people. Then many groups gathered to study the Bible and many Bible based groups arose in the Catholic Churches.

These events in our church history tell us that there is someone who guides the church members to understand their faith, the treasures of our Catholic faith. This someone is no other than the Chief Shepherd mentioned by Peter the Apostle in his first letter (5:4).

Today in our Gospel reading we read about the prophecy concerning this shepherd. It is a quotation from the prophet Micah (5:1). “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel."

In the first reading we are told that nations shall walk by the light of this shepherd. These nations shall come from afar, represented by those magi who visited the child Jesus, whose visit we celebrate today.

In the Responsorial Psalm our response is that every nation will adore this shepherd. And in the second reading St. Paul makes clear that the people shepherded by Jesus is not only the members of the tribes of Israel but even non-Jews. Paul says that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. They are also part of the people of God, shepherded by Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

The title of Jesus as shepherd is significant because when we study what is a shepherd it is a job which has few consolations. In fact I call it a thankless job because no sheep ever goes to its shepherd to say “Thank you” for shepherding it. Unlike a dog whose appreciation for its master is seen by its face and wagging of its tail, the sheep does not have this feature of a dog.

In the online Bible Dictionary we have this description of the job of a shepherd: “The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief.”

Such is the work of a shepherd, a very onerous one, and the sheep do not say “Thank you” to him.

And many of us are like that. One Bible commentator John Trapp describes Jesus the shepherd as “the arch-Shepherd, that feeds his people daily, daintily, plentifully, pleasantly, among the lilies” (John Trapp Complete Commentary). We are fed by Jesus the shepherd daily, daintily, plentifully, pleasantly and like sheep we fail to say “Thank you” to Jesus.

May we always be grateful to Jesus for shepherding us.

Let us bow our heads and say from the depth of our heart, “Thank you Jesus for shepherding me. Amen.”

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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