Jesus Our Shepherd
Mark 1:14-20
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for 22 January 2006
Fr. Frank Baiocchi

Some time ago, in a distant city, a ten-year old boy got into trouble. The year was 1943; the city was Chicago. The boy? Me! Our family had just moved into a new neighborhood on the north side, into a home three blocks Lake Michigan. That meant I had to go to a new school and leave my friends and classmates behind. It was awful. What’s worse, I wasn’t getting along well with Sister Josepha, my new 5th grade teacher!

When we first moved there in summer I began spending a lot of time on the nearby beaches of Lake Michigan. That October the weather turned mild and school turned dull, so I decided to play hooky from school – not for a day or two, but for an entire week! Each day my classmates were in school, I was spending time walking the beaches, watching the lake change moods, scanning the horizon for freighters and sailboats, dodging the pounding waves. I was having fun. I was in another world. I gave no thought to the consequences of missing an entire week of school.

Of course the hammer fell. When I returned to school, my poorly written excuse was easily recognized as a poor forgery. My parents were told and they punished me. But worst of all, for the remainder of the school year, Sister Josepha called me the “unrepentant beach bum” because I would not apologize to her.

Why begin a homily with this story? Well, now that I’m more familiar with Jesus’ life and teaching, I think Jesus himself could be called an “unrepentant beach bum,” and that would put me in verygood company! Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but please humor me!

Take a closer look at Jesus – not the Jesus of pious church statues and prayer cards – but the real Jesus. In today’s Gospel, he’s where he often is: on the beach! He calls his community together on the beach. He’s out on the lake in storms. He walks on water. He tells fishermen where to catch the most fish. Even after his resurrection, he meets his disciples… where? On the beach! He has breakfast with them on the beach. Apparently, Jesus loves the beach – maybe even more than I do!

In fact, if we really think about it, Jesus doesn’t have a job involving physical labor. So some people might call him a “bum.” He eats when he’s hungry, sleeps when he’s tired, leaves routine work for his friends to do while he goes off to quiet places and prays. He chides Martha for working too hard and compliments Mary for sitting with him.

All through the Gospels, Jesus shares meals with sinners and tax-collectors, the scum of the town. For Jesus, it is readily apparent that meals are more important than words for bringing a community together. Actions do speak louder than words! Eating together, as Jesus frequently does with the “nobodies” of his day, is a sacred pledge of solidarity for all who share his table and his food. Sharing a meal is a pledge to give ones blood, if necessary, for those sitting at the same table with you. Jesus knew that. The rich people knew that too, which is why so many of them stopped coming. They didn’t approve of Jesus’ guest list! The wealthy people would never offer their blood to save the nobodies!

Jesus, an unrepentant beach bum? A god should get more respect, you say! Jesus is the last guy you’d expect to be god. You don’t expect God to hang around with sinners, outcasts and nobodies, but Jesus did. You don’t expect God to die a common criminal, deserted even by his closest friends, but Jesus did. You do expect Jesus’ friends to recognize him on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, but they dont – at least not until he eats supper with them! A god should get more respect!

This is really what Jesus is about! What makes Jesus truly godlike is not his great moral teaching, not his fascinating storytelling, not even his wonderworking. Rather what makes Jesus godlike is his compassion and concern for the “nobodies” he meets along the way. Jesus is indeed compassionate; but his compassion is flavored by food and drink, by shared meals and honest table talk. By golly, he even likens his reign to the experience of a wedding feast.

What do we risk when we give food to hungry people standing in food lines at downtown shelters? Not much! But when we actually share a meal with these people, pledging our lives to them over a piece of bread and a cup of wine, that’s something entirely different. For Jesus, the pledge given at this table finally comes due. He dies a “nobody’s” death, a bum’s death.

If we can think of Jesus – even just a little – as “an unrepentant beach bum,” then maybe what happened between Sister Josepha and me so long ago, wasn’t all that bad. Maybe “unrepentant beach bum” is not an object of ridicule. Maybe it’s a title of honor!