Jesus Our Shepherd

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
18 January 2009

Homily
Fr. Francis F. Baiocchi

Two sisters are sitting, rocking their chairs on the front porch, discussing a family relative whom neither likes. “He’s just no good, and he’s untrustworthy – not to mention lazy,” said the first sister. “Yes, he has his shortcomings,” said the other, but then added, “but… Jesus loves him.” “I’m not sure about that,” said the first sister. “Oh yes,” the other insisted, “Jesus loves him.” They continued rocking in silence until the second sister added: “Of course Jesus doesn’t know him like we do!”

Far too often, we judge others the same way. We focus on their shortcomings so often that we overlook the good in them. Because we pay so much attention to their shortcomings, we can’t understand why Jesus loves them. We simply conclude that since we don’t find them lovable, neither does Jesus.

Today’s Gospel helps us understand why Jesus loves us all as he does. He is a keen observer of human nature. Matured in his faith and prayer, he is able to focus clearly on the inner qualities of people. His mission to establish a realm of peace and justice on earth, so he seeks a dedicated group of people, “disciples,” to help him accomplish this task. At the Galilean seashore, Jesus meets Simon. Observing him carefully, Jesus notices not his shortcomings, nor his future denials, not even his impetuous personality. Instead, he sees a man with a giant heart and seeds of greatness just waiting to blossom. To mark the occasion, he even gives Simon a new name for his new role: “You are no longer Simon,” Jesus says, “You are Peter, the Rock. Come with me.” Peter accepts the challenge, and in time becomes the strong one, the “rock,” that Jesus knew he’d be.

In a very real sense, Jesus calls each of us as he called Peter. We too are given names when baptized into the Jesus community: Not “Peter” perhaps but “Thomas! Jean! Robert! Alice.” At this calling we receive the gift of faith to augment our gifts of nature. What are “gifts of nature?” Here are some examples: We may have great compassion for others’ pain. We may be, as was the apostle Nathaniel, “without guile.” We may be justice seekers, good humored, community organizers, teachers, visionaries who inspire others, prayerful, healers, peacemakers, good listeners, life nurturers. These gifts are not intended simply for our individual salvation. They are Jesus’ own traits and ready avenues to people’s hearts. They are gifts given us to enrich the human community and all God’s creation! Jesus does know us better, much better, than those two sisters on the porch think he does. Unlike them, he sees the good in us – something we often fail to do. He sees past our shortcomings, our failures, our excuses, and like a laser, focuses on the qualities making each of us unique and precious.

Today we stand on the same Galilean seashore with Jesus. He approaches us, looks each of us in the eye and sees there the reflection of his Abba God within us. He extends us an invitation: “Come, be my follower, my disciple!” How do we respond? Do we ignore him? Do we take his invitation lightly? Or do we accept his invitation as Peter does? The choice is ours!

With bowed heads, we pray: Abba God, we thank you for the gift of faith received in baptism, and for all the gifts of nature and nurture we carry within us.
Help us identify these gifts and use them generously in serving our human community and all creation.
We bless you for inviting us to follow you, to help build your realm of peace and justice on earth.
Be with us as our mentor, our guide and our inspiration.
Help us realize the joy of sharing with others what you make grow in our hearts.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.