When I smell an indoor swimming pool, just a whiff and I flash to the pool my brother and I went to every Saturday morning during the winters of our youth. I can smell it now. Not all memories are pleasant of course and some had accompanying smells of charred wood, alcohol or that unforgettable odor of the dentist’s office.
Incense can remind us of prayer and church and a sense of a holier time. These days as we prepare for our entering the holy places of worship and the celebration of the Eucharist, we might smell around and linger a while with the recalled experiences which remain with us and only need a little stimulation. There is a holy presence embedded in those memories, even of the dentist’s office. Some do take time to dust off and unwrap. We might find some prayer of thanksgiving within them as we prepare to celebrate the “Central Mystery” of our faith.
God asks the people to look in their rear view mirrors to what
will become the major event of their history. God uses images such
as, “how I bore you…”, “brought you here
to myself…”, and “you shall be my special possession”.
Their response will be to keep the memories alive so they remember who they are in God’s eyes. Keeping the covenant means to act according to who they know themselves to be. They are the saved from and the saved for. The saying is true, “If you know who you are, you will know what to do.” As a royal kingdom they will loyally follow, trust, and live their dignity among and between themselves.
The Gospel has several parts, but one main theme which is central to the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus, the Messiah, is sent first to the people of Israel. He sends His apostles first to the people of Israel. To Jesus they are all lost and wander as if abandoned by God. Matthew sees the people as abandoned by their first shepherds, the Pharisees. Jesus is moved with a desire to embrace them and so He does and sends His fellow shepherds to find the lost and bring them back.
Jesus shares His mission and His authority over the unclean spirits and over illness. Sickness was a sign of sin so the power to heal is the same as the divine power of redeeming.
There is a particular naming of these new shepherds, but the restatement of their mission is His own personal one as well which He received with His name. Jesus means, “He Who Saves”, and He is sharing that name with them as well. By what they do they will be saying that the new “kingdom” is coming and the Ruler will not allow them to stray for lack of caring.
The struggle for us humans is whether being terrified or being loved is a better motivation for our staying good, in line, and in the “kingdom”. These readings today opt for tenderness rather than terror. Moses and Jesus relate the care that God has for us all. We are worth God’s going after us. From whatever Egypts we have entered, God desires to free us. From whatever strayings we indulge, God shows compassion in word and action. The Shepherd of Israel allows for the freedom of the sheep, but freely extends the divine finding with invitations of grace.
I recently received a note from a person who listed seven major fears of God. My heart was moved with compassion for her. She has been told she is going to hell for several reasons. One of these is that she entered a Catholic church to attend a funeral and blest herself. My response was about where do I begin. Obviously I am not saying or thinking that all must be explicitly in the Catholic church or even the Christian community to be found by the love of God. What I am saying is that, by how explicitly we live, we do proclaim the Kingdom of heaven. Heavenly terrorists give God a bad name. If love casts out fear, then being named in Jesus means we go out to cast out demons by doing who we are. In His name then, we are those who save from the illnesses of the fear of God. Where do we start? We begin by our not fearing God! We desire to be good, because that is who we are if we believe our names. We know who we are and we will act accordingly. It does all begin with hearing our name in prayer and especially the Eucharist. That is the start and the terrified are waiting.
“One thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all my days.” Ps. 27, 6
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