Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Little Flock - Homily for the 19th Sunday in OT (C)

One of the classic movies of the Old Testament is the 1956 film, Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. Every Easter, it seemed, the Ten Commandments would be on TV and I remember watching as Moses would part the Red Sea or as Pharoah would stand confounded by him. 

The scene I remember most, however, is when Moses and the Israelites offered the Passover. There was this terrifying Angel of Death, the tenth and final plague, that was coming down like a green haze upon the land. Every first born (even the Israelites’ first born) would be killed—unless they gathered in houses where the blood of the Passover Lamb was smeared on the doorposts and its flesh eaten. Only then would they be safe.

I remember being terrified by this—death all around them, people screaming in the street—wondering, “Will they make it?” I remember, too, how peaceful Moses was through all this. Even amidst what looked like the end of the world, Moses remained calm, serene, placing his trust in the Lord. After all, the Lord had gathered them into this place and into this moment. The protection of the Lord surrounded them.

*          *          *

This Passover reached its culmination many years later when Jesus, the New Passover Lamb, instituted a New Passover: His blood smeared on the doorposts of the Cross, His flesh eaten at the Eucharist (for He said to His disciples on the night before: “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body, given up for you").

Therefore, at every Holy Eucharist, at every Holy Mass, our Lord gathers us into this place and into this moment. He gathers us in a New Passover, to protect us and to free us from the powers of death—a death like that green haze that covered the land. And in this moment, just like Moses, Jesus remains calm, serene, and beckons us to place our trust in the Lord. And so, He says to us:

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock.

Do not be afraid. This death will pass over. Yes, we are like lambs among the wolves. But, the Lord is protecting us.

*          *          *

What I love about these words is not only the reassurance of His care, but also that Jesus says: “Little flock.”

Little flock—He isn’t just talking about its size. Jesus is being affectionate. It is like the use of the diminutive in Spanish. In Spanish, you can call a priest “Padre”—father. But if you know the priest well and have affection for him, you could say, “Padrecito”—little father. It’s a word of affection, just as mothers may call their children “sweetie.” My little flock, my little child, … padrecito….

And as He says this, He gathers us, draws us close to Him. And when we are close to Him, we have nothing to fear. All shall be well.

*          *          *

Peter asks if these words are for him. Jesus responds by talking about Peter’s role as steward over the kingdom—that is, Jesus talks about Peter’s role as Pope. Jesus then warns Peter about how those who are given much, much is expected. There is a warning about the end of the world and how it comes like a thief in the night—just like the angel of death that stole the first born in Egypt. So, be vigilant! Stay awake!

There is a contrast here. In one moment, Jesus is giving words of affection. But in the next, He is giving words of warning. What is going on here?

Jesus is telling Peter: Peter, you have a choice. Will you either stay awake because of love or will you stay awake because of fear? I would prefer that you let me gather you in love, but if you don’t think these words are for you, then at least be moved by my warning. For I want to be with you, Peter, my little flock, my little child….

Yes, you *I’m looking into the pews now* Jesus looks at you and says, “my little son,” “my little daughter.” "I want to be with you."

*          *          *

I think when we let those words sink in, that Jesus treasures us, that here is where His heart is—I think this frees us to be generous and trusting and peaceful. I think it changes the way we look at others. Each person next to us is loved by God so, so much!

Being vigilant means keeping that in mind and in our heart.

And let’s be honest, the devil and the world are trying to steal that from us. The green haze is coming down, trying to take away this treasure that Jesus loves each one of us so affectionately!

Case in point: we have an election coming up. (Have you heard?) And there’s a big to do about the candidates. And you’re holding onto the pews now: is he going to get political? There will be a time for it, but not right now.

But we have opinions about the candidates. And maybe we're ruminating about what we think about them right now. There might even be some emotions under that.

And all I want to say for now is this: no matter what we think about them—and we probably have some problems with what they say or do (and we probably should)—but no matter what we think about them, God looks upon them and is trying to draw them close and says to them, “my little child….”

Because didn’t God the Father create them? Didn’t Jesus die for them? Are they not called into this little flock?

Have we prayed for them?

*          *          *
This is vigilance. Our world and the devil would have us buy into the lie that some people are just too far gone or the world would have us forget the very basic reality that all people are made by God and therefore treasured by Him. Each person: "my little one!"

And if we forget that, if we make our lives all about this earthly life and earthly gain and we simply label people as whatever-politicians and not as loved—well, then we will lose heaven. For our heart would be consumed by the things here on earth; and that is where our treasure would be.

And that’s a corrupt treasure that breeds resentment, hopelessness, self-pity, anxiety, division, and every kind of sin under the sun.

Vigilance! Remember the vertical dimension of our life: of heaven, of God to whom we pray “deliver us from evil” and who pours forth sun and rain upon both the good and the bad because He loves them all. Remember, little flock… and do not be afraid any longer. I will protect you, says the Lord.

You are my little son, my little daughter, my little child, my padrecito, my treasure. 

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