16 Ordinary Time B – July 22, 2012 – Whom Do We Trust?
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
Some of you may recall a popular TV game show that aired between 1957 and 1962. It had the grammatically questionable title: “Who Do You Trust?” The host would ask a married couple a question and the husband would then decide if he could give the correct answer or … “trust” his wife to do so.
Whom do you trust today? Your loved ones, spiritual shepherds, elected officials, the evening news? Do you trust your own conscience, your inner instincts? But how are they shaped; by what, by whom?
Some of the psalms we sing at liturgy ask God for help. Others give thanks and praise. This morning’s psalm twenty-three is known as a “psalm of trust.” It may have been based on the words of a priest after the exile — a time when people needed trustworthy leaders. He encouraged the Israelites not be to afraid because God was with them. 
The passages from Jeremiah and the gospel of Mark today also employ the metaphors of the shepherd and the sheep. Jeremiah, in an oracle of judgement, admonished leaders who did not care for the sheep but scattered them and drove them away. You cannot trust shepherds who ignore the needs of their sheep. Jeremiah’s prophecy imagined that future leaders would do a better job caring for the people much like God would.
There are many challenges for us today and even more opinions about what to do. Whether it is about eating, exercising, voting for a president or buying a car it is hard to decipher what and whom to trust. Is global warming a real problem? Is fracking a good or bad thing? Are medicines prescribed by doctors the right ones? And … if organic food is better for us what does that say about the rest of the vegetables in supermarkets?
Some say that spiritual leaders might be the only honest voices left. Surely the clergy will tell us the truth. However, historically, even clergy are quite capable of putting a spin on various political and spiritual topics. Then comes another question.
What if the members of a religion disagree with their shepherds especially in matters of morality and doctrine? How are we to know exactly what our religion teaches on any issue? Do we trust our catechists, our pastoral leaders or are we left to our own inclinations? A recent Gallup poll indicates that less than 50% of Catholics have confidence in organized, institutional religion. No wonder the sheep are scattered!
Forget the shepherds for a moment. What about you and me? When I asked for ideas about this homily one parishioner said, from time to time the sheep need a shave. What a clever thought. What would happen if we shed our comfort zones, our entitlements, our expectations of others, our need to always have the correct answer? What if we agreed to live with ambiguities, to accept compromises? Or, what if we took more risks and tried not to be so certain about everything? Would there be fewer falsehoods? Might there be less animosity towards others? Fewer frictions and tensions in society? We don’t really know.
We continue plodding along, grazing the pastures, looking for sustenance and simple pleasures. Sometimes when there is a need for a moral compass shepherds do offer clear directions whether the sheep agree with them or not. Sometimes when left on their own sheep will take a risk. They will follow new paths even if they do not know where they will take them. Eventually others will join the journey.
Jeremiah said trust in God. This act of faith is not always easy to do. The gospel today tells us that Jesus will lead the way. Jesus had little patience for the manipulation and exploitation of people by civic and religious authorities. He took great risks to model possibilities for living in new ways. He worked to break down barriers that divide people. Jesus tried to simplify life with a few basic teachings.
Perhaps organized religions have made Christianity complicated. No matter who they were Jesus held people in his opened arms to manifest the love of God. He cried for those who had no one else to give them hope. He taught the people who followed him to be peaceful, to pray, to be kind to others, to be humble, to speak and act honestly. And, you know what? People came to trust him! Whom do we trust?
1 Miller, P. in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, 734 and 751-2