16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON JULY 18, 2021 (R. 1: Jeremiah 23: 1- 6; Psalm 23: 1- 3, 3- 4, 5, 6; R. 2: Ephesians 2: 13- 18; Gospel: Mark 6: 30- 34)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
HOW MUCH HE CARES FOR HIS SHEEP!
I would like to begin by thanking those of you who are already wishing me happy anniversary of my priestly ordination. The real date is tomorrow, July 19th. Thank you for the very significant roles you have played in these 13 years of my being a priest. It has been thirteen years of amazing grace. I thank God for choosing me in spite of me. I ask God to bless all those who assisted me on my journey to the altar of God and those who keep sustaining me in His sanctuary. For the dead, may God grant them eternal rest. Amen.
As seminarians, one of our professors would always tell us, “My Dear Seminarians, now that you are in the seminary, you are afraid of God, but after your priestly ordination, it will become the turn of God to be afraid of you.” It made no sense to me at first until he began to explain, “…the priest has powers that are not available to the angels, which he can use and abuse. At any time of the day, and anywhere, the priest can call on Jesus to come fully into a piece of bread and a cup of wine. At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus turned water to wine; he has now empowered priests to turn wine to his blood. Though a sinner himself, by raising his hand over the penitent and saying the words of absolution, the penitent is forgiven his/her sins. Young as he may be, the priest is a father to all, including his own parents.” What a privilege! It felt so nice right after my ordination when I went to my home parish for special thanksgiving. After the Mass, I saw both young and old coming to greet, “Good morning, Father” or “Congratulations, Father!” It was nice to see some of my former teachers addressing me, “Father!” It became more interesting when I saw my mom coming out of the Church and I wanted to see if she would address me “Son” or “Father.” Lo and behold, she came up to me and greeted, “Good morning, Father.” I then, responded, “Good morning, my daughter, how are you doing?” A nun who was standing next to me gave me a slap on my back and said, “What’s wrong with you, is she not your mom?” I turned to her and said, “What’s wrong with you, did you not hear her call me Father?” What a privilege!
While I was reflecting on the glories of the priesthood, my mind went back to what another professor told us in the seminary. He said, “My dear seminarians, in case you are eventually chosen by God to be ordained, do not take it for a compliment.” He paused for a while and added, “…because God always choses the weak and the foolish” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1: 27). So, the glories of the priesthood are not about me, they are about the grace of God working in me and through me. I was still reflecting on the glories of the priesthood when I picked up the Sunday Missal to begin my preparations for this Mass and I read the opening words of the First Reading, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture…” The reading continued, “I will take care to punish your evil deeds… I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them.” At this point I said to myself, “What a risk to answer the call to the priesthood! See how much God cares for His sheep! Despite the powers He has given to me as a priest, I cannot treat the sheep according to my will but according to the will of the Good Shepherd.”
But this is not just about me, and not just about ordained priests. Everyone here is a shepherd. The husband is a shepherd to his wife and so is the wife to her husband. Parents are shepherds to their children; older siblings to younger siblings; we are shepherds to our friends; those in civic authority are shepherds to their constituents etc. Never think you can do and undo in whatever position you hold; the Lord will come knocking soon. At the point when you think no one has power over you, the Lord in his way can make you to step aside and get another shepherd for his flock. For this reason, in whatever position of authority we find ourselves, we must always consult the Master to be sure we are still working based on our job descriptions. The apostles, after working for a while came back to Jesus to report what they had done and taught and to listen to the next command. In whatever leadership position we find ourselves, we must pray about it constantly. We must be careful, so that we do not become so much engrossed in the work of God that we forget the God of the work.
Every one of us here is also a sheep in one capacity or the other. In case you are under any form of oppressive government or leadership; in case you have a leader or a shepherd who is making life unbearable for you, today’s readings are meant to comfort you. Do no harm to yourself, for God is always on the side of his sheep. His intervention is close at hand. In the Gospel passage, Jesus was ready to forgo his rest when he saw the sheep that were like sheep without a shepherd. Cry to him when you are oppressed, and he will respond at the appropriate time. In whatever difficulty you find yourself, always remember that prayer is your best weapon!