Wednesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Benedict, Abbot
The Authority of the Shepherd
Readings: Genesis 41:55-57; 42:5-7a, 17-24a; Psalms 33:2-3, 10-11, 18-19; Matthew 10:1-7
We come to this Eucharistic celebration as people who wear different hats. We are teachers and students, parents and children, leaders and led… In other words we come as people who both exercise and submit to authority. But from where does this authority come? For what is it given? And how is it supposed to be exercised? These are among the questions that our readings help us to ponder today. For in both readings we see the bestowal and exercise of authority. In the first reading, Pharoah makes Joseph the man in authority over all of Egypt. And in the gospel, Jesus gives the twelve apostles authority over unclean spirits.
Even so, the true source of this authority becomes clear to us upon deeper reflection. We know, for example, how the circumstances of Joseph’s life – the jealousy of his brothers, his being sold into slavery, his interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams – become the means by which God raises him to his current position. His authority actually comes from God. The same can be said for the Twelve. Jesus summons them and lets them participate in the mission entrusted to him by his heavenly Father. The authority they receive is a sharing in the authority that comes ultimately from God. Can we not say the same for the authority that we exercise and to which we submit?
And this divine authority is given for a very specific reason. In a time of famine, Joseph is tasked to feed the starving people. Similarly, the apostles are sent to gather and feed the lost sheep of the House of Israel. God gives authority so that God’s people can be fed. Of course, none of us here is lacking in food to eat. More likely our difficulty is that we have too much. Famines are the problem of people who live far away. Still, do we not live among people who suffer famines of a different sort? Do we not know of lonely people, for example, who continually endure a famine of the heart? Or are we not familiar with those who suffer from a famine of the spirit, those who are so busy with so many things yet don’t quite know why? Doesn’t God bestow authority so that these might be fed as well?
Finally, there is also a very distinctive way in which the authority that comes from God is exercised. In the first reading, we see this expressed especially in the weeping of Joseph. In spite of all that he has endured at the hands of his brothers, Joseph not only recognizes them as his own kin, but he also allows his heart to be moved by their plight. Although he has the prerogative to reject their plea for help, Joseph exercises his authority with compassion. He acts as Jesus acts when, for example, he weeps at the tomb of his friend Lazarus (see John 11:36), or when he takes pity on the people who seem like sheep without a shepherd (e.g., Mark 6:34). And it is with this same compassion of Christ that the apostles are invited to minister in the gospel.
This then is what true authority looks like. It has its source in the Divine Shepherd who bestows it so that the sheep might be fed with compassion.
How does this image compare with our own experience of authority today?