Fourth Sunday of Advent: Sheep without a Shepherd

Jess theses statement in Luke“It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the children of perversion continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time First reading.

This reading talks about leadership and what it means for King David to be a leader. It brings to mind another reading, this one from Numbers.

The sheep of his flockMoses told the NAME, “May the NAME, the God of the spirits of all humanity, set over the community someone who will be their leader in battle and who will bring them out and bring them in, that the NAME’s community may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” And the NAME replied to Moses: Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hand upon him. Numbers 27:15-18

It is no coincidence that Jesus hung out with fishermen. “Nun,” is the Aramaic word for a fish. Joshua is the Hebrew word for Jesus, God Saves. Joshua is the first great shepherd after Moses and Joshua Ben Nun is Jesus. David, in his address to God asking to build a temple shows how he doesn’t get it. God doesn’t want great houses. He wants to go out before the people and be their leader.

The Hebrew word for a leader is כָּבֵד, which also means the liver, importance, and by extension, glory. There is a reason we speak of leading as lead. Lead is a heavy metal, and in Irish tradition also the important one. To show how Hebrew connects mind and body, “Cali” means the kidneys and is the place the Jewish people assigned for the mind. The leader is the important one because he’s the shepherd, the one who leads the people out and the one who brings them in.


The Salary, Salt, of the rich is 70 times that of the poor in this country

Moses asks that the people not be as sheep without a shepherd, but regrettably today, that is precisely the case. We have people in high places who like to think they’re important. “The wealth disparity between upper and middle-income Americans has hit a record high, according to a new Pew Research Center Report. On average, today’s upper-income families are almost seven times wealthier than middle-income ones, compared to 3.4 times wealthier in 1984. When compared to lower income family wealth, upper income family wealth is 70 times larger.”


“Someone from among your own kindred you may set over you as king; you may not set over you a foreigner, who is no kin of yours.” Deuteronomy 17: 15

How can someone be of our own kindred when they bring home 70 times more than we do?

Luther Gulick in his Management theory lists 5 management skills: Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, and Controlling/Accounting. If one looks at a typical M.B.A. program one will not find a single class required for this directing. One is also hard pressed to find classes in staffing. Luther lists in his understanding of Directing: Motivation, Leadership, and Communication. The typical M.B.A. program has no courses for these skills, either. Luther Gulick lists for Leadership, “Leadership is the ability of a manager to induce the subordinates to work with confidence and zeal.”

Jesus heals the epilepticFrom their training on, managers, plan, organize, staff and control, do accounting, use number to measure the non-measurable, human beings. They don’t lead because they don’t know how. They don’t shepherd the people because they don’t know how and don’t know who the sheep even are. The people are like sheep without a shepherd.

Leadership is the potential to influence behavior of others. It is also defined as the capacity to influence a group towards the realization of a goal. Leaders are required to develop future visions, and to motivate the organizational members to want to achieve the visions.

According to Koontz and o’ Donnell, “Leadership is the ability to persuade others to seek defined objectives enthusiastically. It is the human factor which binds a group together and motivates it towards goals.” Keith Davis goes on to say, “Leadership is its nature to understand the feelings and problems of the group as a whole as well as the individuals, and a leader should strive to satisfy the personal and social needs of his followers, which is very much expected by them. A


Psalm 72: To Solomon “The end of the psalms of David, son of Jesse.” (This is King David’s advice, his last words to his son on how to lead the people.) O God, give your judgment to the king; your justice to the king’s son; That he may govern your people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment, that he may defend the oppressed among the people, save the children of the poor and crush the oppressor. May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him. He rescues the poor when they cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help. He shows pity to the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor. From extortion and violence, he redeems them, for precious is their blood in his sight.

Psalm 82: God takes a stand in the divine council, gives judgment in the midst of the gods. “How long will you judge unjustly and favor the cause of those who think themselves first? “Defend the lowly and fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and needy. Rescue the lowly and poor; deliver them from the hand of those who think themselves first.” The gods neither know nor understand, wandering about in darkness, and all the world’s foundations shake.

Simons mother in lawWho are these gods? “I declare: “Gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you, Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall.” They were great managers. They had great plans, organized for them with zeal, even hired day laborers for their plans. Their accounting was top notch. They lacked leadership. They left their charges like sheep without a shepherd, just like our managers.

These gods are the princes, the managers of secular industry and the current federal government. Their job, and the job of all leaders is to do what David tells Solomon in Psalm 72 and God accuses the princes of not doing in Psalm 82. To find this fault he must live among the people, and listen to them. This is what Jesus does and this is what he calls our leaders to do.

When Moses asks for Joshua Ben Nun to lead the people, by using the shepherding analogy, this is what he means. This is what he means for Jesus, and by extension for us, and in particular for our leaders. There is no room here for making 70 times more than workers make. Those who do are not among us.

Jesus heals the blind manLeadership and by extension management includes leading people from the front. Jesus speaks of leadership in John 10: 2-4. This is also the passage where Jesus says he came to bring life and life to its fullest for his sheep. “But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” This is leadership. This is what Jesus did throughout his life, by being born in a feeding trough, the son of a homeless immigrant unwed mother, to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, walking the roads looking for these folk, and the list goes on. Now let us follow his example.

Christmas in Incline Village Nevada

This Christmas, let us remember our leader, lying in a feeding trough, among us. Let us remember how we sing of the little drummer boy and the baby in the manger who heals the wounded lamb. From birth, this baby, an immigrant, the son of a homeless unwed mother, came to and for the poor. Let us be like him in our lives. Bring leadership to the people.

Third Sunday of Advent

Jess theses statement in LukeThe spirit of the NAME GOD is upon me, because the NAME has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the NAME, a day of vindication by our God. Isaiah 61: 1-11

When one writes essays or biographies one has an introduction, a thesis statement, the body of the story and the conclusion. Matthew and Luke’s introductions are the nativity. The Temptation follows this, and the thesis statement.

Matthew’s thesis statement is, “The Accuser left him and, behold, messengers came and ministered to him.

Mark’s thesis statement is, “He was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; And he was with the living beings; And the messengers ministered unto him.

Each of these thesis statements are brief. The Accuser and the Pharisees in these stories play very similar roles. The messengers are the Apostles. The living beings are us, at least us in the person of the first century Jews.

menorahLuke’s theses statement patterns after our first reading. If we read the first chapter of The Ethics of the Fathers and compare it with a reading from St. James we see why this is important.

  1. Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant countenance.
  2. Rabban Gamliel would say: Assume for yourself a master; stay away from doubt; and do not accustom yourself to tithe by estimation. (Compare with James, “But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.)”
  3. His son, Shimon, would say: All my life I have been raised among the wise, and I have found nothing better for the body than silence. The essential thing is not study, but deed. And one who speaks excessively brings on deviation.

At first reading sections fifteen and 17 contradict each other. One says Torah study is important, the second states how its not important. Shimon may well have been our Simeon from Luke’s nativity, the one who greets Jesus in the temple when he’s born. Together with section fifteen it says that Torah study is important, but it means nothing if deeds don’t follow.

flamesJames tells us in his first chapter, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: he sees himself, and goes away, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. The one who stoops sideways into the Tam instruction of freedom, perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.”

A key word hear means to stoop sideways, like one who is with a small child and stoops down to pay attention to that child. The person who stoops sideways is like Shammai who studies the Torah with diligence, reading it in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. He gets a master to explain what Torah means in light of tradition. [i]

James points to the essence of the question with is examples. The hearer of the word reads it for debate, to defend who he is as a person. He uses Torah to point to himself. The doer of the Word focuses meditates upon it. He looks at it from all angles. St. Augustine was once asked which version of the Bible was the right one. St. Augustine says of differing interpretations, “the examination of a number of texts has often thrown light upon some of the more obscure passages…[ii] In essence, St. Augustine says to read all the translations.

What separates Jesus from the rest of humanity isn’t that he read Torah, but that he did the Torah. He embodied it. It is Luke who has it right. It is interesting to note that Jesus never quotes Scripture to the masses. He says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You heard that it was said,” not “Scripture says.” In debating the Pharisees and Satan, he quotes Torah and the prophets early and often. He knew and studied Scripture. What set him apart was act.


If you expand this picture out you can see chains at the feet of Liberty, the broken chains of slavery

What was the act? Now that is what our first reading is all about. “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the NAME and a day of vindication by our God.


This brings us to what it means to be a Christian. Do we not mean we were born of Christ? Does not St. Paul say, “So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” Therefore, to be like Christ is to love the poor as fellow children. That means not making excuses like, “The Church should do that and not the state,” and then give only 1.5% of our income as Catholics. Think this 1.5% isn’t accurate? Take your net pay, the pay on your last paycheck and divide that into how much is in that envelope you’re about to turn in. If it’s less that 1.5%, there’s your proof. If it’s about 2% you give what most protestants give. If it’s 4% you give about what most poor protestants give.

AMOUNT TO DONATE CHARTHow much should we give? Luke as John the Baptist say, “He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”

Rather than give a precise figure, however, let us look at that first reading again. “The spirit of the NAME GOD is upon me, because the NAME has anointed me.” The Holy Spirit is within us. The Jewish Community notes how first God rescued the Jewish people from Egypt/Oppression. Then and only then does he take them to Sinai. It’s only when they are rescued that he gives them Torah/instruction. We don’t follow Torah to get to heaven/salvation. We follow Torah because we’re already there. How much we give is a litmus test of how much of that salvation, how much of God’s Presence in the Eucharist gets into our hearts, first through hearing the Word, and then by how much of him we receive in the Eucharist.

When Jesus is asked the first commandment he quotes, not the Ten Words, but the Shema. “Hear Israel, (You who quarrel with God) God is Almighty, God is One. Love God with All your Hearts, all your Animate Being, and with all your measure. If we’re patriotic, that means loving God with our patriotism, and that means helping God serve the people through the state. Yes, it means the church through Peter’s Pence and other forms of church charity. Yes, it means through volunteer work and donations to other charitable groups, but yes, it means with everything. God doesn’t want 10%. He wants ten time 10%. He wants it all and he wants it to serve the least of our brothers.

Remember the example of St. James. If we give to serve ourselves, we’re just looking in the mirror and then forgetting who we are. Then we become paranoid and think the world is out to get us. If we serve God first, if Torah and Gospel are our focus, we will prevail.




[i] Augustine, Saint. The Complete Works of Saint Augustine: The Confessions, On Grace and Free Will, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, Expositions on the Book Of Psalms, … (50 Books With Active Table of Contents) (Kindle Locations 25349-25350).  . Kindle Edition.


[ii] Augustine, Saint. The Complete Works of Saint Augustine: The Confessions, On Grace and Free Will, The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, Expositions on the Book Of Psalms, … (50 Books With Active Table of Contents) (Kindle Location 25365).  . Kindle Edition.


Second Sunday of Advent

Jess theses statement in LukeAs we read the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent we first come the name of Isaiah. Isaiah in Hebrew is largely an alternate spelling of Joshua, which in English translates as Jesus. The story for Mark begins with Jesus and it ends with Jesus. Quoting Isaiah, Mark says, “Prepare the way of the NAME, make straight his paths.”

How do we do that? That is the question for the Second Sunday of Advent. The rest of the passage describes John the Baptist. Hebrew is an interesting language. It’s alphabet, like all Semitic alphabets has two letters with no sound, “Aleph” and “Ayin,” which resembles our “Y.” It has two “S,” letters and three “K’s. It also has two “Ts.”

A Hebrew word for the world, meaning a verdant place, livable place is “Table,” with one “T”. Its word for baptism is “Table,” with another “T.” The idea behind baptism is not punishment but preparing us for “Table,” the verdant, literally spiced place. “Baptism” appears twelve times in Torah and Prophets to translate “Table.” In every case but one the clear reference is to the priest dipping sacrifices. 2 Kings 5:14 could mean dipping or immersion. The word appears one more time, Job 9:31 where it clearly refers to plunging into a ditch.

John the Baptist“John the Baptist, in most of the remaining Gospel reading for today is described to look like Elijah. The Gemara cites another verse and interprets it homiletically. It is stated: “The NAME showed me four craftsmen” (Zechariah 2:3). Who are these four craftsmen? Rav Ḥana bar Bizna said that Rabbi Shimon Ḥasida said: They are Messiah ben David, Messiah ben Yosef, Elijah, and the righteous High Priest, who will serve in the Messianic era.” Sukkah 52:b

Elijah will be the herald of the eschaton. Messiah ben Joseph will wage war against the evil forces and die in combat with the enemies of God and Israel. In the Sefer Zerubbabel and later writings, after his death a period of great calamities will befall Israel. God will resurrect the dead and usher in the Messianic Era of universal peace. Messiah ben David will reign as a Jewish king during the period when God will resurrect the dead.

Of the righteous High Priest, one Targum says, “And Melchisedech, the king of Jerusalem — he is Shem the Great — brought out bread and wine, for he was a priest ministering in the high priesthood before God Most High.

jm_200_NT1.pd-P7.tiffJohn the Baptist points to Jesus who is a Carpenter, whose Father is Joseph, who dies in battle, some sources say against Rome, and against Gog which is Hebrew for “Roof,” and the Temple is one big roof. Elijah also points to penance as Elijah is a Teshuvah which means penance.

Our first reading gives the answer of what we are baptized to. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the NAME! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. The importance of the NAME shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the NAME has spoken.

As to what penance is penance to, we read Leviticus 14. This chapter is about the purification of lepers. In the Septuagint or Greek Bible, “Baptize” appears three times. The passage talks of dipping a living bird into the blood of a dead one. The dead one is dipped into running water. The original word, faithfully translated into Greek is “Living Water.” The Gospel of John will take this up when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman.

White swan

We are baptized into life. The dead bird is sacrificed so we may live. Living is defined in this passage to. Living water is flowing water. It is water that shows the dynamics of what it means to be alive. St. John shows he agrees with this definition by also talking of living water. We get to this life by being what the Jewish people call “Tam.” This means perfection but in the sense of leading simple, humble lives where there are no people representing valleys, depressed, hungry, thirsty, and the like because all the mountains and hills, all the greedy people are made low. All the rough, vulgar, average people who are made rough by their pain will be made smooth. We will all be Tam, because God is ruler and all the rest of us are sheep. Are we up to the task of helping to build this world, or must God look for others?

Why Mark begins his Gospel with John the Baptist

Jess theses statement in LukeNoah, give Noah to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she received from the hand of the NAME double for all her mistakes.

A voice cries out in the desert prepare the way of the NAME! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. The importance of the NAME shall be revealed. All people shall see it together; the mouth of the NAME has spoken.

The Hebrew word for “Comfort” used in this passage is “Noah.” Give Noah to my people. What does Noah represent? Noah and his family are the only people who survived the flood. Noah is the last person through whom all the rest of the human race finds life.

Second_TempleIsaiah next mentions Jerusalem. “Jeru” means “City,” and “Shalom,” of course means, “Peace.” It means more than peace. “Shalom,” is also the word for “Complete,” and therefore, “Perfect.” Shalom means the perfect kind of peace that only comes with tranquility, feeling satisfied with what we have, as a nation. Proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt expiated. What guilt?

Hebrew has no punctuation. We are told to proclaim. In Hebrew service, the word is proclaimed by being sung. The cantillation of the rabbis is “A Voice cries out, in the desert prepare the way of the NAME.” That is the way the Egyptian monks of the first century understood the passage. They went out into the desert, built cells, and prepared for God. In the desert all were equal. This idea found its way through Athanasius to the Cappadocian Fathers to St. Ambrose and to St. Augustine, all of whom founded monasteries and rules for them, all of which taught equality amongst people. It also includes St. John Cassian.

St. Francis and the leperSaint Hilary of Poitiers as well as of St. Martin of Tours form a link which goes to Columbus, to St. Patrick, and the Irish Catholic Church. There’s no desert in Ireland, but there is plenty of countryside, and it is to the countryside that the Irish went. The monks confessed their sins to each other. The purpose for going to the desert is to remove guilt and to return to a state of equality. In Ireland, the monks went out to the people and heard confession. That is where our understanding of confession comes from.

“Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” Isaiah wasn’t talking about mountains and hills, rugged land and plain, the rough broad. He talks of people. The mountain people, those who are filled with themselves will be made low. Those who lead tough lives, of whom I’m one, will be made smooth. The roughness of our lives will be smoothed out and we’ll receive that Noah, that comfort. We’ll live in the broad valley, as sheep, a community of equals. That’s why our first reading ends, Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

John the BaptistIn Jewish tradition, no word in scripture is present with no purpose. Elijah first appears in I Kings 17 as Elijah the Tishbite. “Teshubah,” is the Hebrew word for repentance. In I Kings 19 says of him that he ate cakes baked on coals. It also mentions a Staff a Cush of water. This can also mean a batter dripped on a hot grill with honey. Then it mentions that he drank water. II Kings 1:8 tells us that Elijah wore the camel’s hair and a leather belt. John the Baptist comes in the same tradition wearing the same clothes and eating the same food.

A look through the Greek Septuagint looking for Baptize will show us that the word translates as both to dip as we baptize our babies as Catholics, and as emersion. The idea is for a symbolic cleansing from the secular way we were, to become Tishbite, to repent and live a new way. This is the way of equality, where all are equal, all eat the same foods, and dress in the same dress.

Sin is inequality, were some live in fenced in communities, drive nice cars, and consume with impunity, knowing that across the street people go hungry. They look out their churches and see people with no homes who drown out their misery with alcohol. Let us work to build a community of equality. Then God will come and choose to dwell among us. Then we will feel his presence as it fills us in the Eucharist. This is why Mark begins his Gospel with John the Baptist.