A Good Shepherd – Fr. Viet Nguyen

Fr. Viet Nguyen’s Homily July 18, 2021

“What is a shepherd? Who is a shepherd? A pastor, a leader, these are some of the questions that I asked myself as I was in seminary of if I was to be a priest, to be a pastor, a shepherd of souls, what was that like? And we hear in the stories today. I had the opportunity in seminary to go to the Holy Land to Israel for 9 weeks to study over there and one of the experiences we had was not only walking through the steps where Christ was and lived, but also we had an opportunity one day to shepherd sheep and all the things you’ve heard about sheep are true. It was very difficult. The task at hand before us and it was my class of like 30 we had a bunch of sheep about 30 sheep over here and we had to shepherd them over like 25 yards over here, so get them to that circle and get them to this circle and have them stay in that circle and it’s not easy! It’s not as easy as I might think. I grew up in Johnson County, so I never had live animals let alone sheep and they just sometimes they would go and sometimes they would just go where they wanted to go or they just won’t move. Something about a shepherd that Pope Francis talked about a shepherd has to do three things: one, a shepherd has to lead. He has to be ahead of his flock to show them the way, but not only that he has to be with them side by side at times to kind of walk with them, but also sheep, he has to be behind them as well because sometimes they stray away and he has to kind of push them forward. That’s why in some ways the image of a shepherd we have in our bishops. The have their mitre and sometimes you have that hook and you have to drag them along.

The images for the scriptures today has that image of the Good Shepherd shepherding his sheep, but to fully understand this image, to fully understand the bible you have to understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament always prefigures what happens in the New Testament and the New Testament fulfills what was prefigured in the Old, so they have that intertwining relationship and in today’s first reading and Gospel we have that glimpse of it. In the first reading from Jeremiah, this is the time of the Babylonian exile in about 587B.C. Remember in the passover Egypt, God saved his people from slavery out into the desert and now into the great land before them, the twelve tribes of Israel, but now in the Babylonian exile the twelve tribes are scattered and in Jeremiah he is prophetically saying, ‘You have had bad shepherds that guide you astray to scatter my sheep, but I will be your shepherd the God that has set you free from slavery. I will be your shepherd. I will bring back all the tribes of Israel back together one day and I will guide them. I will nurture them. Not only that, I will give them many shepherds through the line of David and He will be the righteous one.’ and that’s our first reading right there. With that in mind we hear Jesus and his disciples go out on the boat. They have been teaching. The people have been coming to him so much they can’t even eat and as they get over to the land to rest he sees all these people coming bofer him and he has pity upon them. His heart reaches out to them. He says they are like sheep without a shepherd really emphasizing that he is the Good Shepherd. He has now been sent by God to shepherd his people to teach them, to one lead them, show them the way. Jesus is the way the truth and the life and so we look to Him to where to go. He gives us the vision of Heaven. When you lead the way, leaders always are the visionaries, right? So you can maybe in your own corporations, the president, or even in your homes, you see the vision for your group, your people, your family that they cannot see, but you lead them along the way. That is what Christ is doing for us. That is why throughout the scriptures he says, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ and sometimes we wonder, ‘Where is it?’ That’s because we can’t see clearly, but He can so let us follow Him and just like Pope Francis reflected on the Good Shepherd, a good shepherd, pastor, leader doesn’t only lead, but he is with his flock. He’s working with them side by side. Christ says, ‘Take my yoke upon you for it is easy and the burden is light.’ and the yoke is always like yoking two animals together to carry something. Really, He is yoked to us if we would just kind of surrender to His will. He’ll carry the load with us that it is easy and the burden is light. He’s walking with us and then at the very end a good pastor, leader, shepherd doesn’t only just cater to those in his flock, but those who have gone astray. He goes behind them and he always carries them back- the image of him leaving the 99 going for the one, him giving us the sacraments, the sacrament of reconciliation to forgive our sins that lead us away from God to reconcile our relationship back with Him. This is Christ. This is the Good Shepherd, but now you might think, ‘Well that’s a great image and it’s nice, but what does that mean for me today? How does it look for me today, here in the Church?’ One, Christ is the Good Shepherd, yes, but also here in the Church the work of Christ works through His Church, so he is the head and we his people, the mystical body of Christ are the workings of Him, the arms, the legs, so for us to be nurtured by Christ, but also for us to be good shepherds as well to those who are in your influence, to those who are your children, your co-workers, your friends. Now what does that look like for us as a Church? One, to be visionaries, the one who leads, the one who is above, we point the way where others cannot see. That means we teach the teachings of the Church as they are not dumbing them down, but to teach the Church to teach the truth even when it’s hard. That is to lead, but just like a good shepherd we do not drop the teachings on the people before them and leave it as a burden, but no, as a good shepherd we are with them. We walk with them to help them understand to help them integrate it within their own life to not just leave the burdens of the teaching upon you and then just walk away and then as well we stand behind like the Good Shepherd reaching out not only to those who agree with us and are with us in our fold, but even the ones outside like the Good Shepherd leaving the ninety-nine going for the one. We’re all called to do that as well to bring those back to us. We as a Church are more than just us right here as you see the Church though the corporal and spiritual works of mercy we see different religious orders reaching out to the poor teaching the ignorant visiting the imprisoned. We all have ways to reach out to be with the flock. What is calling you to be? How is God calling you to be a good shepherd in your life, but first we have to let Him shepherd us. So as you come before the Lord today where Christ is truly present before you in the Eucharist let us as God for the strength and the courage to receive Him into our lives to nurture us and sustain us to give us the waters of living life so that when we can go out we have the courage to be shepherds to others. Amen.”