I Will Also Raise Up Shepherds (Jeremiah 23:1-6)
by: Archbishop Charles E. Smith, OSF
"I will also raise up shepherds who will look after them and pasture them." Words taken from our passage today from Jeremiah.
Many of us, when we think of shepherds, see the picture of the Nativity of Jesus with bearded men with heads covered standing looking on at the new born baby Jesus. Then of course we see sheep around the shepherds, because what is a shepherd without any sheep? Just a man with a covered head!
A much different picture was painted when I went to Ireland and saw all the fields of sheep. While the sheep may have known the voice of their shepherd, in Ireland however the only way that the shepherd knew who were his sheep was by the stripe of paint on the hind quarter of the animal. Can you imagine how the scriptures would have changed if this were true in biblical days? "My sheep know my voice, and I know them by the color on their ...." Well, you get the picture.
Today in the voice of Jeremiah, we are told that God will raise up shepherds who will attend to His flock That's us! Then if we use the remote and fast forward to today's gospel message, we see that Jesus welcomes the disciples back whom He sent out on a mission to find out what they had experienced. Today, we would say that the disciples went out on their "practicum". Now for those of you who may not know what a practicum is -- A practicum is a graduate level course, often in a specialized field of study, that is designed to give students supervised practical application of a previously or concurrently studied theory. So this was a test to see if the disciples had learned what they needed to before he gave them the control of the church and did they ever pass the test!
Can you image the thrill of these disciples returning and the amazement as they described to Jesus all they had done and all they had witnessed? Jesus, in your name I commanded someone to walk and they did! But in the midst of their return and excitement, Jesus did something very special. He took them off by themselves. Well let's say He tried to, but the people followed. In ministry we call it a retreat. In business we might call them planning sessions, seminars, brainstorming exercises but in fact, they are a retreat: taking time out of our busy schedule to rethink, regroup and if needed reorganize our thoughts, the business plan of our lives. All of us need this downtime, this quiet time to evaluate and to rethink what our business plan is. When I say business plan, I speak about our daily personal business plan, our spiritual one and our personal one, not necessarily what we do for a living.
Can you imagine if Jesus were standing here before you today, right here in this very spot instead of me, and He pointed to each of you and said to you "I'm sending you out this week. Don't take all your normal garbage when you leave here with you, but take all that I have taught you. I want you (as He points to you and looks into your eyes) to heal someone this week. I'm not going to tell you who it is, what they need a healing for or even how to do it. I want you to heal this person." Then He looks at someone else, points to them and looking into their eyes He says: "I want you to make someone walk again." (Whew! Glad He didn't give that assignment to me!).... But He does this for everyone here including the children! As you sit there looking at Him, it's as if He can read your mind. Then He says: "Look, I have given you authority to crush snakes and scorpions underfoot. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you." After you recover from the shock, you step out of the doors of this church into the world in front of you. Your life will be changed. Perhaps you'll try the trick from the movie, "Bruce Almighty" and part your tomato soup, nothing happens. Then, you feel really stupid. Then the phone rings. It's your neighbor. She (or he) needs someone to talk to and they don't have anyone else that they can talk to. You invite them over. You talk for hours but you still have this thing in the back of your mind that Jesus told you hours ago about this week. You're scared what will happen. Who will it be? Will I be ready? Then, you're drawn back to the moment at hand and you talk with your neighbor and listen to them. It isn't until the next day when they say to you, "You know, I was crippled in my relationship, you don't know what your words of wisdom did for me. I can see things so clearly now. Thank you so much!" You say to yourself, "Words of Wisdom". What did I say? What did I do? Then you realize you helped someone walk over the difficult part of their marriage! This might happen yet another time or two, and then you realize that this is what Jesus was talking about to you. This was the "Test" that Jesus gave you!
The truth is, we're all called to healing -- healing ourselves and/or healing others. Sometimes in healing others, we in fact heal ourselves. But healing someone to walk may not be about physically healing the crippled, but about those who are spiritually crippled. Blindness may be spiritual blindness rather than physical blindness, but sometimes, it may be physical blindness or physically crippled.
Many of us may have been told in our lives that it's not our job to heal. We're not doctors, nurses or therapists. Jesus never taught that. He has given each of us a mission, each of us a task. Yes, it may be scary but are you up for the test? God has given each of us a special gift or talent. What we do with that gift is up to us. We can bury it which makes the talent/gift useless, or we can use it for the glory and good of God who gave it to us. Are you willing to give it a try? You know, with Jesus at our side, all things are possible!
So, I offer to you this week to look inside of you. What healing powers do you have? What special gifts from God do you have? Perhaps you have the cure for cancer; perhaps you have the gift to mend a broken heart! Perhaps you have the power to share love. See what happens.... Maybe next week, you'll come in here with the excitement that the disciples did when they returned to tell Jesus of all the wonderful things that they were able to accomplish when they simply believed they could.