Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Reign of Christ - Proper 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Lectionary Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Jeremiah 23:1-6: "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" says the Lord. 2 Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.
3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. 5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."
Luke 23:33-43: "When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.' And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!' 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!' 38 There was also an inscription over him, 'This is the King of the Jews.'
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!' 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.' 42 Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' 43 He replied, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'
COMMENT: This scene of the criminals dying beside Jesus provoked this thought in me, "What went wrong?" Both men sentenced to death along with Jesus came into the world sweet smelling newborn infants; they are stamped with the image of God. Each was full of potential to grow into their God-given gifts and to positively contribute to their communities.
When I see individuals walking the streets, mentally confused, dirty and dressed in rags I ask, "What happened in their lives that they end looking and living like this?" It saddens my heart when I see young people speak disrespectfully to their parents or go out of their way to rebel against authority. It grieves my heart over the rise in teenage suicide. What went wrong, what is going wrong?
The Old Testament lesson makes clear the awesome responsibility of the spiritual leaders. They have the capacity to make or break the lives of the souls placed in their care. The recent history of clergy misconduct proves this to be true. I might add that sexual abuse is just one way to harm a soul. I propose that "shepherds", as in pastors, spiritual directors or spiritual companions who mislead by dishonesty can the damage hearts and minds of those put their trust. Dishonesty is quiet, the pernicious way that leads to irreparable damage.
Another thought that came to mind was a Scripture from Proverbs 22:6. "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." This verse has been a mainstay for me who 38 years ago, joined the generations of "perfect parents" trying to raise "perfect adults". This verse was an anchor to return to when I failed in my efforts to rightly parent.
My children have made me proud more times than I can count. However there were times of worry and fear when they behaved foolishly because of rash decisions. My hope was maintained by Proverbs 22:6 when they fulfilled the proverbial text, Proverbs 17:21, "To have a fool for a child brings grief; there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool."
What went wrong in the lives of these two men? The text does not give us these details. We do know that the law deemed their crimes worthy of death. However, we read that one criminal acknowledged his guilt; he also recognized Jesus was Messiah, Savior. I propose that he had at some point in his life, true, legitimate ?shepherds? as parents and spiritual leaders.
There are so many pitfalls to fall into for us and our children as we seek to find and live for God. However, I still believe if we lay a foundation on Proverbs 22:6, God will keep the greatest promise. Jesus said and says, "You will be with me in Paradise."
The Last Sunday of Ordinary Time Blessings,
© November 19, 2010