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Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord. ... You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the Lord.
– The Book of Jeremiah, 23:1-4
With election fever rising, most palpable in the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) national assembly in Clark on Friday and Saturday, the above first Sunday Mass reading from the Prophet Jeremiah may sound like divine admonition upon politicians who put power, fame and fortune above justice and the common good.
Instead of looking at the people as Jesus did in the Mass Gospel reading from Saint Mark (Mk 6: 30-34) - seeing and having compassion on them as sheep needing a shepherd and then teaching them, as Pope Francis noted in a homily on the passage - the electioneering leader just finds votes to woo (or buy).
God's warning to Israel's self-serving shepherds, mouthed by the 6th century BC prophet Jeremiah, thunders with truth and justice today: "Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture ... You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds."
The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition Bible, said to be closer to the original Hebrew, is even more damning: "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture." Indeed, if a shepherd leads his charges astray, they could be laid waste and lose the life-giving Word and Spirit of God.
Goodies without God
So, amid the lure of politicking, profiteering, grandstanding and other temptations misleading leaders, they should heed the Holy Father's reflection of the Gospel and how Jesus looks upon the crowd waiting for him when he and his Apostles sought solitude:
"The gaze of Jesus is not a neutral one - or worse, a cold and detached one because Jesus always look with the eyes of the heart. And his heart is so tender and filled with compassion, that he is able to understand even the most hidden needs of people."
The Filipino word for compassion, "malasakit," much used by President Rodrigo Duterte's camp in his campaign and presidency, may come to mind. Pope Francis stresses that Jesus's malasakit isn't just emotional: "lt is God's attitude and predisposition toward mankind and its history. Jesus appears as the fulfilment of God's concern and care for his people."
That's why when he encountered the multitude, most of them probably wanting to receive or see miraculous healing or feeding, Jesus did not do the expected. "Instead," Francis points out, "he began teaching them many things. This is the first bread that the Messiah offers to the starving and lost crowd: the bread of the Word."
There's a very important but often missed lesson in this papal reflection, reprinted in the latest edition of "The Anawim Way" Mass readings and commentary. "We all need the Word of truth to guide and illuminate our way," the Holy Father reminds us. "Without the truth, which is Christ himself, it is not possible to find the right direction in life."
As widely seen, however, when today's chiefs speak to people in their constituencies or organizations, promises of goodies come instead of godly guidance. A road here, a basketball court there, and other pledges of future bounty - if candidates are elected.
And in business, glowing profit projections are paraded with the condition that employees must work hard and heed management, and investors must ante up with needed capital.
For these goodies, of course, all thanks and praise are claimed by those who lead or aspire to lead. Little or no God in the picture, except maybe a motherhood line to sway the devout or claim divine destiny in the quest for position.
The result of keeping our Lord out of our lives and longings as recounted by Pope Francis is not new to those who believe in worldly promises, which constantly fall short: "When we distance ourselves from Jesus and his love, we become lost, and life is transformed into disappointment and dissatisfaction."
Break the wall of enmity
By putting God first and foremost loud and clear, Jesus does exactly what St. Paul recounts in the second Mass reading from his Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2: 13-18):
"For he [Christ] is our peace, he who made both [Jews and Gentiles] one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it."
In modern words, the Apostle to the Gentiles explains that the age-old subjection to legalities, dividing law-abiding Israel from the pagans outside, was ended by Jesus, who taught by word and works that love, not law, is what brings us to God and Him into us.
Thus, was healed the division between Jew and Gentile, who were both brought into the Church of our Lord. Plus: the seemingly impenetrable wall between our sinful nature and the call to worship, heed, and be with God - that, too, is broken down by the new man who brings to all the wisdom and grace to obey the ultimate law of God: love.
Many may now be quipping: How do you put that in a campaign speech or a company prospectus?
The Responsorial Psalm 23 declares: "The Lord is my shepherd." Heed him and division disappears, along with fear and frustration, "even though I walk in the dark valley.
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