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Homily Guide

Feed My Sheep
Ezekiel.34:2-16; John 21: 1-19
April 26, 1998

One of the most powerful passages in the Old Testament is the prophecy of Ezekiel against the shepherds of Israel. In Ezekiel, "shepherds" refer to the leaders of Israel. They are the established rulers in command of resources. They are the political leaders. Yahweh’s bitter complaint against them is based on their negligence of their people, especially the poor. The shepherds, Yahweh complains, have placed their selfish interests above the interests of the people, especially the poor. "Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them" (Ezekiel 34:2-4)

The complaints of Yahweh in Ezekiel are poignant because they can be applied to many of our own political leaders. It is as if Yahweh still complains: Ah, you politicians of the Philippines who have been feeding yourselves? Should you politicians not have been feeding the people? You eat the richest of foods, you clothe yourselves in imported garments, you slaughter the fattest steer, but you do not feed the people. You have not empowered the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, brought back the strayed. You have grabbed lands of the helpless, demolished their humble homes. You have lived in luxury and opulence, but have ruled the poor with force and harshness.

Indeed, the emotion of the prophet Ezekiel can be felt in the prophetic statement of the Philippine bishops. In their recent Pastoral Exhortation on Philippines Politics they cried out: "Philippine Politics – the way it has been practiced – has been most hurtful to us as a people. It is possibly the biggest bane in our life as a nation and the most pernicious obstacle to our achieving full human development" (PEPP, par. 5). The bishops decried a political culture poisoned by the pressure of political debts, polluted by the pestilence of political proteges, sinfully salaried for indolence and senselessness. They bemoaned the "trapo" distinguished for his "empty verbiage, lying, vote-buying, backslapping, backstabbing, political treachery, massive cheating, manipulation of the people and the ‘common good.’" Here, the sentiment of the bishops is our own.

In Ezekiel, the Lord God, seeing his sheep scattered and hungry, abandoned by irresponsible shepherds, says, "I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out … 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 parts of the land (Ezek. 34: 2-16). The Lord himself seeks out the scattered sheep; he himself feeds them. It is an active concern for the lost and the hungry. It is a promise which he keeps as the Good Shepherd, as the Paschal Lamb, as Living Bread (Jn 6:51) broken for all, loving all.

The question that the Lord in today’s Gospel puts to Peter – and to us all – is simple: Do you love me? To every confession of yes, the Lord missions: "Feed my sheep." Loving the Lord cannot be separated from doing his will: "Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs." Take care of my people. Love all my people. Take care especially of my weak and vulnerable people.

During election times, feeding the people, taking care of the poor – certainly means making sure that those elected to public office are genuinely qualified to provide food and livelihood for the people in the long term. In a complex, global world, feeding the poor cannot be sustained through occasional dole outs; uplifting the poor cannot be achieved through wishful thinking. Nor are the poor served through the empty promises of a celluloid mirage. Loving the Lord means fashioning such an interactive and productive society of creative human beings that no one goes hungry, no one feels useless.

Meanwhile, in our Gospel, even as the Lord sends us out, it is he who prepares breakfast for us, it is he who feeds us, he who allows himself to be broken that we might all eat and live eternally. In this Food, we are nourished. In him, we are prepared to meet even the challenges of the forthcoming elections: to choose the candidates as the Lord himself would choose; to work to insure that the forthcoming elections be honest, orderly and peaceful; to elect political leaders whom our Lord will not curse – as he cursed the Shepherds of Israel – of whom our Lord will not be ashamed.


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