Reflection: The rejected stone and inclusive communities
When I think of how many homilies I’ve heard on the Good Shepherd, it seems like there is nothing left to say. We have probably all heard homilies that recount how shepherds will leave the flock to pursue the one who was left, followed by many interpretations of this metaphor for the church today. And of course, who can forget Pope Francis’s call for shepherds to smell like the sheep?
Yet in the midst of a pandemic that finally feels like it could have light at the end of the tunnel, these images that are so common that they risk being cliché land a little differently. For the past 13 months, our parish communities have shifted online. Liturgical life looks and feels different. As vaccination rates increase, we finally have hope that we might be able to return to communal liturgical worship that isn’t mediated by a screen.
I am struck that we are in a rebuilding phase of the church. We are in a rare moment when we can pause and intentionally imagine how we want our communities to act as we gather together again. We know it will not be the same as pre-pandemic times, for more than 560,000 deaths in the United States significantly alters who we are as a church. Communities have lost loved ones, and we have collectively experienced a trauma that has altered our view of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic and national attention on racial justice have opened our eyes more fully to who is included and who is excluded from our communities.
As we hear in the first reading and recite in the psalm: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22). Who are the people who were previously rejected by the church that can now be the cornerstone? Unfortunately, a litany of people comes to mind: the LGBTQ community, Black people, unhoused people. The list can go on and on and on. As we begin to gather together in person in churches, we have the rare opportunity to intentionally and critically rethink the margins and center in our communities.
The image of the Good Shepherd underscores this call to seek out those who have been marginalized and welcome them into the community. The flock doesn’t sit together and wait for the wandering sheep to come back; the shepherd proactively goes out to get the sheep who has been left behind. Today’s readings invite this same action toward a radically inclusive community.
Who are the previously excluded people who need to become the cornerstone of our communities? How can the church welcome and celebrate these people, not as tokens or with shallow hospitality, but rather as a re-ordering of the community that truly reflects the gospel?
This gospel call is revolutionary. It requires sacrifice. And it is an in-breaking of the reign of God.
Receive our weekly liturgical reflections in your inbox! Click the button below to sign up.