Second Friday after Pentecost

Sacred Heart of Jesus (C)

The focus for devotion to the Sacred Heart lie in the loving care Christ gives us. He is the Good Shepherd, the One who would give his life for his flock. The readings for this feast day reflect that divine care.

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16

11 For thus says the Lord YHWH: Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture; and on the mountains of the height of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie down in a good fold; and on fat pasture shall they feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down, says the Lord YHWH. 16 I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but the fat and the strong I will destroy; I will feed them in justice.

"Pride goes before the fall." But after the fall, what happens next? This was the question Ezekiel tried to answer for his contemporaries taken into captive exile.

As the son of a priest, Ezekiel was taken into exile by the Babylonians. Soon after, Ezekiel felt the call to prophesy among his countrymen. Through visions and strange behavior, Ezekiel tried to explain why the Jews were in exile. And he looked ahead to God's salvation.

While the Jews lost all because of their sin, they would be gathered together by the power of God. The Lord would bring the Diaspora (communities of Jews spread throughout the world) back to worship in Jerusalem, like a shepherd gathers lost sheep who strayed from the flock [34:11-12]. He care for the injured. He would return the lost sheep (the Jews in the Diaspora) and would give them a place of safety, with lust pastures [34:13-14]. But there would be judgment, for not all the lost would be innocent [34:15-17].

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Second Reading: Romans 5:5b-11

5 ...the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the (One) having been given to us. 6 For, as we were still (morally) weak, still CHRIST died at the right time for the irreligious. 7 For someone will die for the unrighteous (only) with difficulty. On behalf of the good perhaps someone will even dare to die. 8 But God established his love for us that, while we were still sinners, CHRIST died for us. 9 So much more, then, having been made righteous, we will be saved from the (coming) wrath. 10 If, being enemies, we were reconciled through the death of his SON, so much more, having been reconciled, we will be saved in his life; 11 not only (that), but also boasting in God through our LORD JESUS CHRIST, through whom we have now received reconciliation (with God).

What makes for close friendships? Shared values, common experiences, a single purpose. Notice the adjectives that denote friendship: "common" and "shared." Friendships make individuals into groups and are the building blocks of society.

What do we share in common with God? If we are truly honest with ourselves, not much. By definition, anything we share with the divine we received at our creation: free will, a limited sense of creative power, intellect, the ability to love. These powers come to play in our moral lives and in our relationships with others. While we as humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, we are not his equal. We are limited by time and space, life and death. What ability we share with God was not only given to us, but is minuscule in comparison.

Alright, we might say we share common values and goals with God. But, we would be diluting ourselves, because we would claim to know the mind of the Almighty. Without revelation, such talk is arrogant, for God is unknowable. In addition, we humans tend to use our abilities to pronounce and exercise values that are contrary to the God made us. In other words, we use what we have for immoral and irreligious purposes. The little that we received from God we use to declare ourselves gods. So, any talk of being God's friends is futile. We are not his equal. And we act in ways that do violence against our very nature.

So, it's it ironic that God reached out to humanity in the person of his Son, Jesus the Christ. In doing so, he revealed his purpose to us with Christ's death and resurrection. God became our equal in the Incarnation. And he offered to raise us beyond our limited nature with eternal life. As St. Iranaeus stated so long ago, "God became man so man might become god." In Jesus, the gulf between Creator and creature has been spanned. Divinity is freely shared with humanity. Revelation and salvation reconcile God and his people together. In other words, God wants us to be his friends and has provided the means to become his intimate companions.

Yes, we are God's friends. He wants us to brag about that friendship. This is the meaning of evangelization. Bragging to others about God's intimate activity in our lives. And inviting those we tell into a friendship that will last forever.

The impossible is possible. With faith, we can call God our "Friend."

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Gospel: Luke 15:3-7

3 HE told them this parable, saying, 4 "Which man among you, having one hundred sheep and having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine behind in the wilderness and goes after the lost (sheep) until he finds it? 5 And finding (it), he sets it on his shoulder, rejoicing. 6 Having entered (his) house, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Celebrate with me, because I found the sheep that had been lost!' 7 I say to you in just that way there will be (more) joy in heaven with one sinner repenting than with ninety-nine righteous who do not have need of repentance.

15:4 The Parable of the Lost Sheep depends on the moral, not its logic. Jesus began the parable with a rhetorical question. Like many other parables in Luke, the question set the natural logic of society upside down. Who would leave a sheep flock to fend for itself, while the shepherd endangered himself to look for the lost sheep? Jesus' answer was everyone when the common wisdom would be "NO ONE!" The moral, of course, pointed to the dedication God had for his people, sinner or saint.

15:6 "Celebrate with me!" This again represented Luke's reverse logic. Which shepherd would brag about a sheep he found, when he abandoned the other sheep to the elements? To the general public, the characters of Jesus' parable would have been fools. But, the Christian community welcomed sinners and celebrated their repentance. Weren't evangelization and Baptism/Eucharist implicit in actions of the parable characters?

In Luke 15 1-2 (not listed here), the Pharisees and scribes make an accusation to shame Jesus. "This mans welcomes sinners and dines with them!" What holy man would lower himself to the level of the sinner? The answer to this rhetorical question, of course, was NONE. The Jewish sense of holiness emphasized purity, separation, and a unique Otherness. A brief overview of "kosher" in the Torah confirmed this fact. And as God was holy, so his people were expected to be holy. (See Deuteronomy 7:6) So, if Jesus shared fellowship with sinners, he implicitly rejected that sense of holiness. He was not holy.

Amazingly enough, Jesus bought into the notion of shame with two rhetorical questions of his own. The shepherd in the parable acted like a dolt when he celebrated his found prize. But, with the image of foolish shepherd, Jesus shifted the debate away from the idea of the Holy to the actions of God. In light of pending judgment, God would try to save the lost. This theme echoed the image of God in the prophet Amos (2:14-15) as the almost desperate groom trying to lure his bride back to him. In 54:5-8, Deutero-Isaiah picked up on the image of the husband seeking his wife. In a male-dominated, gender-segregated society, did this image make sense? Obviously not. But if Hosea and Deutero-Isaiah were willing to use an image that shamed the Lord to make a point, so was Jesus.

But the image of the fool Jesus used did more than reflect Hosea's theme. They delineated the difference in ministry between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees pointed the direction of their ministry inward. But Jesus pointed his outward. The chief focus of the Pharisees lie in the holiness of the people. As God was pure, unique, and Other, so should the people. In fact, their sense of holiness led to a lifestyle of self-quarantine. Even in the time of Jesus, Jews outside of Palestine lived in urban ghettoes. In the Roman Empire, many of these city quarters were autonomous, thus reinforcing a sense of separation.

Jesus and early Christians, on the other hand, evangelized. They went to preach the Good News to all who would hear it. They invited sinners, outcasts, the poor, and the sick, anyone who would believe in the name of the Lord. Certainly, Christians maintained a sense of holiness, but they focused upon inviting others to that holiness. Before invitation, however, Jesus and his followers needed to reach out to sinners and show them some respect. This was the point of divergence between Jesus and his adversaries. To the Pharisees, such outreach violated their purity and was criticized as a waste of time.

The gospel from Luke set the tone for other readings. The Father sent his Son to seek out the lost, the sinner, the outcast. That might seem foolish in our eyes, but not from heaven's gaze. The Son is the love of the Father. He is the one who came to seek us out and return us to the Father. His Sacred Heart would do no less.

How does the image of the Sacred Heart speak to you of God's love?