Readings for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Jer. 23:1-6; Ps. 23: 1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Eph. 2: 13-18; Mk. 6: 30-34
Everyone's talking about election hacking these days. In the country's latest reprise of "the Russians are coming," we're all in turmoil about Putin's interference in U.S. elections.
However, don't you find it highly ironic politicians on all sides are so worried about "Russian hacking," while virtually none of them is addressing much more significant forms of election rigging? I'm talking about the criminal fixes arranged by the U.S. officials themselves?
More specifically, these include the retention of the outdated electoral college itself, outrageous gerrymandering of voting districts, super delegates at nominating conventions, voter suppression's many forms (from voter IDs to felony disenfranchisement laws), Koch brother funding of candidates' election campaigns (as in Citizens United), and the use of highly hackable computerized technology that miscounts and discounts millions of votes each election cycle. (No wonder so many of us decide on election day, "Why bother?")
The upshot of it all is that we end up with a system controlled at all levels by a minority party that doesn't want everyone to vote. That's because its members could never be elected to the presidency (and its control of the judiciary) if voters exercised their franchise in anything like the numbers in other industrially-developed countries.
And so, we end up with a crisis of political leadership with one-percenters like Donald Trump and George W. Bush running things -- and with corporate-funded Barrack Obama trailing not very far behind.
I bring all of this up because the theme of today's Liturgy of the Word is political leadership.
The liturgical image at play is shepherding. That pastoral metaphor brings to mind characteristics of presence, watchfulness, protection, and overriding concern for the sheep of the flock. I'm confident you'd agree that the political leaders I mentioned earlier in no way embody those qualities.
The first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah joins us in lamenting the absence of political leaders with the qualities just mentioned. Instead of uniting people, and drawing them together, the would-be leaders even in Jeremiah's day (all men, of course) were dividing and scattering them as effectively as our own. Through Jeremiah God promises to appoint new governance to reverse that syndrome.
Today's reading from the Gospel of Mark elaborates the theme. It focuses on Jesus' own practice of spiritual shepherding. Jesus fulfills the promise of Jeremiah by drawing his apprentice shepherds from an entirely new class of people -- not from the tribe of Levi and its inherited priesthood, not from the royal palace -- not from the one-percenters of his day -- but from the marginalized and decidedly unroyal and unpriestly in the traditional sense. Jesus chooses illiterate fishermen, day-laborers, and possibly real working shepherds. By all accounts women also prominently filled shepherding roles in Jesus' practice.
Finally, the responsorial psalm and Paul's letter to the Christian community at Ephesus remind us of the reason for shepherds at all -- not the preservation of tradition, much less of patriarchy. Rather, shepherds are there to embody compassion. They exist for the welfare of the sheep.
In Paul's words, leaders are to foster the emergence of a new kind of person. In the familiar phrasing of Psalm 23, that new version of humanity is not over-worked, but rested, and lives in pleasant surroundings, without fear, lacking nothing, with plenty to eat and drink. Shepherds are there for the sake of righteousness, justice, and compassion. (Read Psalm 23 again with that in mind.)
So, given our broken electoral system, how do we get from here to there -- to something approaching the biblical vision just described?
Well, I've just read a wonderful book that suggests the path ahead. But, get ready: it involves hard work for all of us. The book is called Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols. It's written by OpEdNews editor, Marta Steele, and is a magisterial study of the corruption of our electoral system.
To begin with, Steele suggests that we must face up to the facts that: