You Are Not Alone

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

You are not alone. You are loved. Jesus cares about you. You are important to Him. Do you believe those statements? Speaking from personal experience, it’s not always easy to believe those things. We get hurt in life, things happen to us that make us feel like we’re alone, that we’re not loved. We can allow those things to color our perception of life. Sometimes that results in us not being able to see the truth of who Jesus is or how He loves us. But, when that happens, we can turn to scripture for a reminder of the truth.

In our Gospel today, we have one of those reminders. St. Mark tells us that the heart of Jesus, a fully human heart, was moved with pity for the people who were following Him because they were like sheep without a shepherd. When there is no shepherd guiding a flock, it’s easy for the sheep to get lost. Without the direction of a shepherd, the sheep would not be led to water or grazing areas where they can be fed and nourished. They have no one to protect them from the wolves. So by this one expression in our Gospel, Mark is showing how the people of Israel were those shepherdless sheep. They felt alone, abandoned, neglected, unloved.

We get the reason for those feelings from our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. The Prophet is accusing the leaders of the Jewish community – the Scribes, the Pharisees, the priests – for totally neglecting their duties toward the people. “Their whole mission, their whole purpose was to communicate to God’s people this passionate, real interest that God has in our lives. But those priests and leaders were so self-centered that they failed in their mission.”[1] They advanced their own agendas, sought to improve their own quality of life…all at the expense of those they were supposed to serve. As a result of that, the people were driven away from an encounter with God; they were driven further into sin and scattered to fend for themselves against the wolves. The prophets and Jesus, himself, call the Jewish leaders out for that throughout Scripture.

But the good news is that God refuses to let misfortune come upon His people. The Father reassures the Jewish people that He will send a shepherd to care for them. Elsewhere in Jeremiah, the Lord speaks through the prophet and says: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15). That prophecy, that promise is fulfilled in the person of Jesus.

The encounter that Jesus has with His apostles in the Gospel is an example of just how much the Savior of the world cares for those who love Him and follow Him. That encounter reveals the heart of the Father. It points the apostles and it points us to a deeper revelation of what God’s love for us is like.

The Apostles have just returned from their missionary work. You might remember our Gospel from last week, when Jesus sent His apostles out two-by-two to preach repentance, to drive out demons, and to cure the sick. When they return, we can imagine that Jesus is excited to hear about what they accomplished. This moment of reunion must have been full of energy, enthusiasm, and thrill. The apostles “had experienced the power of God working through them, moving people’s hearts through their words and deeds.”[2] And how does Jesus respond when his friends return from their mission? “He takes them aside to rest, to be with Him in the quiet intimacy of their small community.” In His care for the apostles, the Lord shows us that He knows exactly what we need and that He desires to give it to us.

And that gets extended to the people they encounter as they reach that deserted place. Jesus sees how they are lost. And He begins care for them, He begins to do the work that the Father had sent Him to accomplish – He begins to gather the scattered flocks. Eventually, the apostles would be the ones to continue that mission, they would be the new shepherds that would be appointed. That work, that responsibility continues to this very day. Each of us are called to carry that same mission out, all according to whatever vocation the Lord has called us to.

I think it’s appropriate that these are the readings that the Church gives for today, on the day that I celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of my upcoming first ordination anniversary next week. It is certainly hard to believe that it has been just about a year since I was ordained. As I have said before, there are days that I feel like I have been ordained for like a week and there are other days when I feel like I have been ordained for 10 years. There have been many ups and downs, many challenges and struggles, but also many blessings and victories. Through it all, I know that the Lord has been there with me, that He has been leading me, challenging me, correcting me when necessary, and calling me to deeper conversion. Because that’s who He is as the Good Shepherd. It’s the role that He plays in each of our lives.

Just like He did with the apostles after they returned from their missionary work and just like He did with the people who were following Him who seemed lost – Jesus seeks to enter into deeper friendship and relationship with each one of us. He seeks us out. He comes to us. He tells us that we are not alone. That we are loved. That we are important to Him. That He cares for us.  

Some of us are fighting incredible battles. We might be dealing with major relationship issues in our families or with our friends. We might be struggling to find a sense of peace from a battle with illness. We might be feeling alone in some particular challenge or personal difficulty. We may have been abandoned by those who are supposed to love us the most. We might feel unsuccessful because we can’t secure employment or we can’t support our family.

Whatever battle we might be fighting, the Lord is here to reassure us. He tells us that we are not alone. Today – and every day – our hearts should be strengthened by this reminder that Jesus hasn’t abandoned us and will never abandon us. “We matter to Him, and because of that we will never have to fight alone.”[3] Often, it isn’t easy seeing Him in the midst of our struggles. Again, we allow those negative things, those hardships to color our perception of the world. That’s why we need each other. Many times the Lord comes to us through members of our families or our friends simply being there when we need them; He comes to us through the prayers of our fellow parishioners, through words of encouragement offered by someone we encounter. Jesus has given us each other as brothers and sisters so that we don’t have fight alone.

We are the shepherds who have to help our fellow sheep. We can extend a hand of encouragement to others because we are constantly being encouraged by the eternal and infinitely wise Good Shepherd. We can point others to Jesus our Savior, the Friend who, as St Paul says, is our peace because we, ourselves, have had encounter with Him. If we keep this message to ourselves, we’ll be no better than the selfish shepherds that Jeremiah was calling out. We have to go out and share it, we have to point others to Jesus. But we can only do that if we are listening for the true Shepherd’s voice and are being nourished by Him first.

“In a few moments, Jesus will renew His commitment to us, feeding us with the bread of eternal life, the Eucharist.”[4] When we receive Him into our hearts today, we should first thank Him for His love and care for us. He reminds us that we are not alone, that we are loved, that we are important to Him. Only when we embrace that truth can we then be filled with the resolve to recommit ourselves to Him, to go out and share that same message with our brothers and sisters who need to hear it the most.

[1] ePriest. “God Becomes a Shepherd” in Homily Packs for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

[2] “Prayer and Action: The Two Poles of Christian Life” in Homily Packs for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

[3] “Making Sure Others Don’t Have to Fight Alone” in Homily Packs for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

[4] “Making Sure Others Don’t Have to Fight Alone” in Homily Packs for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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