The Good Shepherd’s Gathering of God’s Dispersed Children, Fifth Saturday of Lent, March 28, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
March 28, 2015
Ezek 37:21-28, Jer 31:10-13, Jn 11:45-56

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today in the readings right before we enter into the holiest week of the year, we first see abject evil, then we see how God brings good out of that evil, and then we see the mystery of how we’re supposed to cooperate in God’s work of bringing good out of evil, something that should frame for us very powerfully what we’re going to relive this week.
  • First we see evil in all its ugliness. Word has just been brought to the members of the Sanhedrin about the miraculous raising of Lazarus on the fourth day. Rather than rejoicing, however, the Sanhedrin get nervous that if they don’t do anything, “all will believe in [Jesus], and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” The reason why they would say that is because the Romans used to be brutal in crushing divisions among their far-reaching territories and the Sanhedrin recognized that if Jesus became too popular, there would be division. Why would there be division? Because they themselves wouldn’t accept him and division would ensue between all the crowds who looked to Jesus as the Messiah and the Scribes and Pharisees who didn’t accept Jesus because he didn’t fit into their rigid categories and the Chief priests and Sadducees who were politically connected and wealthy and didn’t want to accept Jesus because it would perhaps mean the end of their privileged influence. So lest there be division on account of their unwillingness like the crowds to accept Jesus, they decided to eliminate Jesus.
  • Caiaphas, the high priest that year, shows the corruption that had invaded their hearts, behaving far more like a Machiavellian politician than a man of God. After insulting his fellow members of the Sanhedrin, saying, “You know nothing,” he then laid out why he accounted it as nothing to sacrifice an innocent man, one who had been working miracles, one who had been fulfilling all of the job description of the Messiah, one who was certainly fulfilling the role of a prophet, one who was raising people from the dead. He is the patron of all those who think that a good end justifies the evil means.  “It is better for you,” he said, “that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” And we’re told that from that day forward, they sought to kill him, a plan that would accelerate when Judas Iscariot would come and ask what he could get for betraying Jesus.
  • We can note, parenthetically before we move on, Caiaphas’ and the Sanhedrin’s total miscalculation. They thought nothing of murdering Jesus to keep external peace so that the Romans wouldn’t come in and crush the people beginning with their leaders, but it was Jesus who had come to bring that peace. If they had accepted Jesus and lived in the way he was indicating, they likely would not have suffered the terrible destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, precipitated by the same evil divisions that rejected God and his prophets and his Son. Jesus the Prince of Peace had come to restore them and help them live in peace, but they rejected him just like they rejected others. No wonder why Jesus would weep over Jerusalem saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate.” That would happen when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans and dismantled stone by stone because they refused to allow God to gather them together, to unite them.
  • Those words lead us directly to the good God was going to bring out of Caiaphas’ and the Sanhedrin’s machinations. St. John tells us that Caiaphas’ evil calculations were unwittingly prophetic, foretelling “that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” Jesus’ betrayal, suffering and death would not only bring salvation but also gather all God’s children, that had been dispersed, into one.
  • We see the real prophecies of that gathering in today’s first reading and the response to that reading, taken from the Prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah respectively. We begin with the latter. God tells us through Jeremiah, “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, proclaim it on distant isles, and say: He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together, he guards them as a shepherd his flock.” God’s plan has always been to unite, to gather his people as one flock, with one shepherd. Through Ezekiel he reinforces that point and builds on how that unity will take place. “I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.” This was not just a geographical but a spiritual gathering. The first thing he will help to do is to eliminate from their midst the sin that always divides people from one another, from God and within themselves. “No longer,” God tells us through Ezekiel, “shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions.  I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God.” Then he will give them clear leadership. “My servant David shall be prince over them, and there shall be one shepherd for them all.” Obviously by this point David had been dead for centuries; the prince to whom God is referring through the prophet is the Son of David, Jesus, God’s own son. And God describes the “place” of unity: “My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the Lord, who make Israel holy, when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.” That sanctuary was not the Temple in Jerusalem that Solomon built, Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilt and Herod adorned. That sanctuary would be Jesus’ own body, which would be destroyed and rebuilt after three days. Jesus himself would be that place in which we would all be united as we became one body, one spirit in Him. He is God-with-us, who has made his dwelling with us forever.
  • So we see that as the evil one tries to scatter — the word “devil” is the Greek diabolos, which means the one who diverts people from God and from each other — God not only seeks to unite but to unite coming out of that evil, just like he did through the Sanhedrin’s decision to put Jesus to death. Lent is about this dramatic turn-around from division to unity, as God seeks to help us repent of the ways our sins have divided us so that we may be united by the Gospel and by the Christ-like love for one another that will bring us together. That’s also what Holy Week is supposed to do, to bring us all together in worship so that Christ may more deeply unite us. We remember what Christ prayed during the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, that we might all be one, just as the Father is in Him and He is in the Father, so that the world may know that the Father sent Jesus and that the Father loves us just as much as He loves Jesus. Jesus was reiterating God’s words through Isaiah in today’s first reading that through that gathering “the nations shall know that it is I, the Lord, who make Israel holy, when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.” That sanctuary is supposed to be the Church united as one body in a one-flesh spousal union with Christ. That type of unity is the great sacrament that is meant to draw all people into communion with God and with us.
  • But we have to admit that this is not the union that presently exists. So many families, called to be domestic churches, are divided by all types of sins, many of which remain unforgiven. So many parishes are divided by gossip and other petty rivalries. The “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church” is divided into factions, whether liberal, or progressive, or conservative or traditional. Christ’s family through baptism is divided with the split between Orthodox and Catholic, the split between Catholics and Protestants, the fissures among Protestants into 35,000 different denominations in the US alone and so the division continues. Christ has come to gather all of us into one. The Holy Spirit has been sent to effectuate that communion. But most of us don’t want what God wants anywhere near how dearly God wants it. It’s not that we’d absolutely oppose his bringing everyone together, but we’re not actively working for that end and because of that we’re actually dividing not opposing. That’s what Jesus said to us in another part of the Gospel, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” If we’re not actively gathering for Christ, we’re scattering. If we’re not seeking to bring ourselves and all we know into union, we’re actually engaging in the social disintegration and entropy. Our mission is the continuation of Jesus’ mission, which is to gather all God’s children. Holy Week that we’re about to inauguration is an occasion in which we’re called with Jesus to try to gather around him our family members, our friends, our neighbors and others.
  • Today we can give a special application to Jesus’ work of gathering. We mark today, on March 28, the 500th anniversary of the birth of Teresa Sanchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, famously known as Teresa of Jesus, her religious name, or of Avila, her birthplace. Her principal work in life was to seek to unite Carmelites anew with Jesus through taking seriously the Carmelite life and rule binding them to Jesus in his prayer, poverty, chastity and obedience. At the beginning of the 1500s, corruption had set in, and to some degree, Teresa had shared in that unraveling, living in a monastery but not really ardently seeking holiness. Things changed around the time she was 40 as God gave her the grace of a profound conversion and the calling to reform the whole order. She suffered enormously for trying to gather all God’s spouses together because many didn’t want to change. She sought to gather them around the Lord in fervent prayer and in the original living of the Carmelite rule. She sought to prepare them for a life of holiness to enter into the celestial monastery. She sought to gather through their prayers all of the needs of the Church. She sought to help them enter into the mystery of the Lord’s passion we’ll be marking this week so that through it, they might experience what she tasted as a seven year old girl in her backyard talking with her younger brother Rodrigo, the desire to live “forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.” She was born today with that mission, a mission she lived on earth for 67 years and, with God’s help, fulfilled, and now a reality of eternal gathering and communion in heaven. It’s an opportunity for us to ponder our own birth with prayers that on our 500th birthday, we can look back and say we corresponded to the graces of communion and gathering with as much fidelity, so that we can share Teresa Sanchez de Cepeda y Ahumada’s same eternal joy.
  • The great sacrament of that unity — a sign that brings about what it signifies — is the Holy Eucharist, which was Teresa of Avila’s great joy. It’s here that Jesus seeks to unite us and send us out as gatherers with him. It’s here where the Shepherd guards his flock. It’s here where Jesus saves all the nations of the earth, by allowing us to enter into his saving death and resurrection. It’s here that God has made his dwelling among us. It’s here that we enter into the triumph over betrayal and death that Caiphas and the Sanhedrin manufactured with regard to Jesus and how we triumph over the wiles of the devil who always seeks to divide. From the earliest days of the Church, the Eucharist was seen as the great Sacrament of Unity, the great fulfillment of God’s prophecies through Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In the Didache, written about 80 AD, there’s a beautiful passage about this unity: “As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, was in this broken bread made one, so from all lands Thy church be gathered into Thy kingdom by Thy Son.” Through the multiplicity of grain that’s united in one loaf that Jesus transforms into his body, blood, soul and divinity, so the Church is comprised of a multiplicity of human beings, ground together into a whole that the Holy Spirit makes into one body, one spirit, one holy Temple in Christ. Let’s give the Holy Spirit total cooperation in his work here and then let’s continue to give him total cooperation as we “go forth” to gather with Christ in this world and into eternity. That will turn Jesus’ tears over the fate of Jerusalem in this world into rejoicing in the new and eternal Jerusalem!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
EZ 37:21-28

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will take the children of Israel from among the nations
to which they have come,
and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.
I will make them one nation upon the land,
in the mountains of Israel,
and there shall be one prince for them all.
Never again shall they be two nations,
and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.
No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols,
their abominations, and all their transgressions.
I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.
My servant David shall be prince over them,
and there shall be one shepherd for them all;
they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees.
They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob,
the land where their fathers lived;
they shall live on it forever,
they, and their children, and their children’s children,
with my servant David their prince forever.
I will make with them a covenant of peace;
it shall be an everlasting covenant with them,
and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever.
My dwelling shall be with them;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD,
who make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.

Responsorial Psalm
JER 31:10, 11-12ABCD, 13

R. (see 10d) The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
R. The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.
R. The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
R. The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.

Gospel
JN 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees
convened the Sanhedrin and said,
“What are we going to do?
This man is performing many signs.
If we leave him alone, all will believe in him,
and the Romans will come
and take away both our land and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year, said to them,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.
So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews,
but he left for the region near the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and there he remained with his disciples.Now the Passover of the Jews was near,
and many went up from the country to Jerusalem
before Passover to purify themselves.
They looked for Jesus and said to one another
as they were in the temple area, “What do you think?
That he will not come to the feast?”
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