Professor of New Testament
Divine Word Seminary
Reading 1: Jer 23:5-8
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 72:1-2, 12-13, 18-19
R. (see 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Gospel: Mt 1:18-25
The first reading is best understood when one considers its context. It is part of a section that deals with bad shepherds starting with chapter 22 and ending in chapter 24. Chapter 22 contains addresses to the bad kings of Judah. King Jehoiakim significantly is presented as the exact opposite of his father who is considered as a good king. Jehoiakim builds a big palace for himself and yet neglects to pay the salaries of the people. He argues that a palace is his legacy. He is presented as a king who is interested with the trappings of power rather than the execution of justice. On the contrary his father, Josiah, did what is just and cared for the poor. The prophet says that a true legacy is justice and care for the poor, not a palace.
Now a question can be asked: how do we see our political and religious leaders? Are they like Jehoiakim or Josiah? Are their programs designed to uplift the life condition of the poor? Or are they focused on the trappings of power, like big cars and offices?
However, the reading applies to all, not just public and religious leaders. In the book entitled Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney points to the fact that most of the time people think of leadership using a top-down model: a leader commands, influences, inspires, takes charge, etc. This model pictures a leader with followers. He says that this is a stereotype which is applicable only to one percent of the population. He believes that the other 99 percent are also leaders and they are leading all the time, well or poorly. It sounds true for in many ways we persuade, influence, inspire and move others, sometimes badly, sometimes well.
However, there is still nothing to match the leadership of the Good Shepherd. There are many Psalms that will prove this and there is a long chapter in John’s gospel that describes the qualities of the good shepherd. But there are also stories from shepherds that illustrate the role of our good shepherd.
Robert Barron, in his book The Strangest Way, gives a story about a young lady who prefers to go on skiing even on Sundays, neglecting her obligation to attend mass. In a freak accident one day, she broke her leg making her incapable of skiing. One Sunday, unable to go out and ski, she decided to go to mass. It was a good shepherd Sunday. The preacher talked about how a shepherd knows when one of his sheep wants to stray. When he notices this he breaks one of the sheep’s legs. It can no longer stray but the shepherd will have to carry it on his shoulders when they go home and when they go out to graze. He stops doing this only when the leg is healed. But when it is healed, the sheep is not willing to stray anymore. Every time the shepherd carries the sheep, their relationship is deepened. When the young lady heard this, she cried. She was able to relate the story to her life situation.
The shepherd in the story of the preacher is perhaps the image of the coming Lord Jeremiah wants us to see and expect --the shepherd who will not allow us to be lost, who likes to be close to us. And this is one of the interpretations of the coming Christmas. It is a day when God moves to get near to us!
The gospel reading for today presents Joseph, called “son of David”, a righteous man. He is placed in a very difficult situation. Matthew reports that Mary was betrothed to him but before they lived together she was found to be pregnant. Joseph decided to divorce her quietly. An angel, however, instructed him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife for she had conceived through the Holy Spirit. When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel told him.
Schadenfreude is a German word which means to gloat over the mistakes of others, or to take pleasure at another’s pain. Joseph could have done this as a righteous person. He is right, Mary is wrong! He could leave Mary in a scandalous situation and prove to the world that he deserves to be called righteous. But if this is what Joseph did, his righteousness was that of little minds.
The righteousness of Joseph is seen in his discernment and obedience to the angel’s instructions. In the gospel, Joseph is seen as a man of action and not of words. Not even a word is attributed to him by the evangelists. And perhaps this is what his righteousness is. His teaching can be summarized as “actions speak louder than words.” One is reminded of the ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13. In a different context Paul says: “If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” One can read further and see that “love does not rejoice over wrong doing, does not brood over injury.” That is righteousness.
John Shea gives a story that shows Joseph and Jesus in the carpentry shop. The father is teaching his son about the saw, the plane and the hammer. He presents Joseph as saying to Jesus: “The law is our measure. It is a tool of judgment, but someone always wields it. Do not use it as a hammer to hit or a saw to cut. Our tools are to fashion a table, not to brutalize the wood.” Perhaps this is a story that helps one to understand how Jesus treats the law in his public ministry. A good example of the story’s application is the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Jesus did not use the law as a hammer to hit at the adulteress. Perhaps this is the righteousness he learns from his father! The righteousness prophesied by Jeremiah!