Most Catholics are not too well informed about the Bible. Our non-Catholic friends can quote the Bible chapter and verse at the drop of a hat. The one piece of scripture we all know is the 23rd psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd. We hear it sung at every funeral.
It is a powerful, hope filled psalm. It tells of the shepherd leading his sheep to nourishing pastures and refreshing waters. It tells of a protecting shepherd who protects his sheep from harm and eventually leads them home to the house of the Lord.
Jesus took this imagery of the good shepherd and claimed it as his own. “I am the good shepherd, I know mine and mine know me and I lay down my life for my sheep.” Jesus made Peter, the one who swore he did not know Jesus, the shepherd of the church. Feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Every bishop wears a ring, a symbol of his being married to his diocese. Every bishop hold a crozier, a shepherd’s staff to symbolize his obligation to shepherd the people in imitation of Christ the good shepherd who gave his life for his sheep.
Jesus compares himself to the hireling who takes off when the sheep are endangered. He takes off because he has no investment in the sheep. Why would he endanger his life for something he does not own? Jesus on the other hand has a great investment in his sheep. Jesus invested in us when he emptied himself of his divinity and embraced our humanity to reconcile us to God by his death on the cross.
Do we ever stop to think that we belong to a church populated by caring individuals? Do we ever stop to think of the men and women, religious and laypeople, who give their lives to others by running schools and hospitals in the remotest parts of the world? Do we ever stop to think of the men and women who are peace activists, social activists, environmental activists doing what they can to make us more sensitive to the social injustices and the environmental crises that surround us? These are the modern shepherds of our modern church.
Do we ever stop to think what our city, our province, our country, our world would be like if all of us became shepherds, men and women who cared, really cared about our brothers and sisters who are hungry, homeless, helpless, mistreated, victimized, suffering, unemployed, impoverished, threatened, rejected? What would happen if all of us became good shepherds and cared? Wouldn’t the consequences be monumental if everyone in the Christian community became a good shepherd?
Here is something to think about. There is only one description of judgment in the four gospels, it is in Matthew. The king sits on a throne “all nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people from one another, as the Good Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left, and he will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”
People will wonder what had they done to earn such a wonderful invitation. Our Good Shepherd will say to us,”I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.” What you give to those who are mine, you will receive back from me. Because they are naked, strangers, homeless, and poor, so am I, and in supplying their needs you show kindness to me.
Christian art traditionally depicts Jesus the Good Shepherd as a gentle man holding a sheep wrapped around his neck. A truer picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd would be a painting of the crucified Christ, the shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
The new commandment of Jesus, ”Love one another as I have love you’ calls each one of us to be a good shepherd, a caring, giving, concerned and involved person, a person aware of and involved in easing the pains of those around us.
May the bread of life we received in this Eucharist give us the strength we need to be good shepherds in all the circumstances of our lives.