16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Caring for Hachiko
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 22:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
Sisters and brothers, recently it was reported in the local news that a potentially tragic story has finally arrived at a happy ending. The story is about a homeless dog–a yellow Labrador–which was first noticed about a month ago, wandering around a neighbourhood in Jurong East. No one knows the dog’s name. But because it kept returning to a certain spot, near a lamp post, by the side of a road, and appeared to be watching and waiting for its owner, people started calling it the Hachiko of Jurong. As you know, Hachiko was the name of a famous Japanese dog, which for years kept returning faithfully to a train station to wait for its master, even after the master had already died. Some days ago, a concerned citizen finally managed to capture our local Hachiko, and now plans to adopt him. The dog in distress has found a new home. How did this happy ending come about?
From the news reports, it seems that Jurong’s Hachiko was saved because the people in the neighbourhood were able to do three things. First of all, they took notice. They saw the dog’s plight. They saw that something was not right. Here was a tame, fully grown Labrador, wandering around, hungry and tired, without anyone to care for it. Unlike the typical stray animal, this dog didn’t seem able to fend for itself. Maybe it was lost. Perhaps it had been abandoned. Whatever the reason for the dog’s condition, people took notice. And, second, not only did they take notice, they also took pity. How long could this poor animal survive, all alone out on the streets, under the scorching sun and the heavy rain? Was it getting enough food? Where did it sleep? What would happen if one day something startled it and it ran out onto the road? Questions like these prompted people not just to take notice and to take pity. They were also moved to take action. For weeks, in addition to feeding the dog, various people also tried to catch it so that they could look after it. And now that someone has succeeded, a hungry homeless animal can finally receive the care that it needs to survive. All because people were willing to take notice, to take pity, and to take action.
I mention this story because, although there are no homeless dogs in our Mass readings today, we do find a lost and abandoned people. A people neglected and abused by their own leaders. By the people appointed to care for them. In the first reading, the Hebrews have fallen into this sad state. Their kings have led them into idolatry–the worship of false gods. As a result, God has allowed their city to be destroyed, their temple to be desecrated, and they themselves scattered among distant foreign lands, without anyone to care for them. But all is not lost. For although their leaders have failed them, their true Lord and Master has not. God takes notice of their plight. God sees their suffering and takes pity on them. And out of pity, God takes action. God promises to send them new leaders: I will raise up shepherds, God says, to look after them and pasture them; no fear, no terror for them any more; not one shall be lost.
And this promise, which God makes in the first reading, finds its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus. In the gospel, we see how Jesus cares for the people around him. His apostles return from a mission, all excited and eager to share their experiences with him. But Jesus sees beyond their apparent enthusiasm. He sees their tiredness. He takes notice of the fact that there were so many coming and going that they had no time even to eat. And, having taken notice, Jesus also takes pity, and then he takes action. He invites them to go away with him to a lonely place and rest for a while.
And it’s not just for the apostles that Jesus cares. We’re told that he also watches over the large crowd of people coming to him for help. Jesus takes notice of their distress. They are lost and confused. They are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus sees and takes pity on them. And even though he has made vacation plans with his apostles, he puts those plans on hold. He takes action to minister to the needy people. To shepherd the lost sheep. He teaches them at some length. And after feeding their minds and hearts with his words, he goes on to fill their stomachs by his miraculous power. With five loaves and two fish, he feeds more than five thousand people.
But that’s not all. What Jesus does in the gospel is a symbol of something even greater. For, in Jesus, God Himself is taking notice of the plight of the whole world, of our plight, yours and mine. God takes notice of our hunger for unity and peace. God sees our deep need to be reconciled within our selves, with one another, and with God. The second reading speaks of this need in terms of a tragic division between Jews and Gentiles. In response, God the Father sends His Son among us. And out of divided peoples, we’re told that Jesus creates one single New Man in himself... restoring peace through the cross. By his Life, Death and Resurrection, Jesus unites us all in a single Body, reconciling us with God. In Christ, we who once were lost and abandoned, have once again been brought home.
And it is this same reconciliation, this same homecoming that we celebrate in this and in every Eucharist. We rejoice in the goodness of our God, who has not left us to fend for ourselves. Instead, in Christ the Good Shepherd, God continues to take notice of our pain, to take pity on our suffering, and to take the necessary action to lead us back into the warm shelter of his Fatherly embrace.
And if God has done and continues to do all this for us, then surely we too are invited to do the same for others. All around us today, do we not see people who are lost or abandoned? People who are homeless or directionless in some way. And I’m not just referring to the more obvious examples, like migrant workers and the victims of human trafficking. I think also of our teenaged children, for example, who struggle to figure out what life is all about, even as they try to cope with the heavy demands of school. I think of young adults, dreaming of a full and happy life, but often not quite sure what that life looks and feels like. And reluctant to make and live out the commitments and sacrifices necessary for making such a life possible. I think of senior citizens, who may be finding it difficult to accept and to adjust to the diminishment and disease that so often come with advancing age. These are just a few examples of the many sheep among us requiring a shepherd’s care. Perhaps some of these are our colleagues, or our neighbours, or even members of our own family.
I’m reminded of these words from our parish’s Stations of the Cross booklet: The 6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.... Lord Jesus, why do we always hang back when there is some good we could do, when there is someone we could help? Give us the courage of Veronica to oppose the opinion of the crowd and do what is right. The face of every man and woman is your face. Let us look at them, look at you, and show them love.
Sisters and brothers, it was because people were willing to take notice, to take pity, and to take action, that an unwanted dog in Jurong was able to find a new home. How are we being invited to do the same for the human Hachikos among us today?