The Good Shepherd (16th Sunday Ordinary time: Year B)
28th July 2018
In the First Reading of today’s mass Jeremiah (23:1-6) bemoaned the failure of the priests and prophets to lead the people aright. He expressed his criticism with the metaphor of the shepherd that has allowed the flock to go astray. The shepherds usually ensure that the sheep of his flock moved in a focused direction. As they often tend to wander off, he is constantly on the watch to use his rod to keep them in line. If he does not do this, the sheep of his flock would scatter. They would wander into unfocused and unsafe paths. Such paths would not guarantee their safe pasture, and they could also fall into the hands of wolves and thieves. This could be noticed when shepherds are careless or heartless.
God’s regret which Jeremiah’s criticism expressed is that the priests and prophets, like the bad shepherd, have let his “flock be scattered and go wandering and have not taken care of them.” (Jer. 23:2). Many of them wandered away to foreign countries and no longer had the opportunity to serve God. The sin of the rulers led into exile. But God, through Jeremiah promised a restoration where the remnant of God’s flock will be gathered together and brought back home: “But the remnant of my flock I myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them, and will bring them back to their pastures: they shall be fruitful and increase in numbers.” (Jer. 23:3; Cf. Mic. 2:12)
The second reading gives a clear description of how we can be Good Shepherds, citing Christ as a perfect example. By his death and resurrection, Christ is the shepherd that gathers the scattered children of God together. This is what the High Priest unknowingly prophesied when he suggested that Jesus should be killed for the sake of the people (John 11:49-53). Jesus already showed this disposition to offer himself for the people in the gospel reading of today (Mk. 6:30-34). He showed himself to be the good shepherd that will never allow the flock to wander. Even when him and his disciples had set out time to rest, as the people were coming around, “he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.” (Mk. 6:34). Unlike the shepherds of old who placed themselves and their comfort above that of their flock, Christ the good shepherd was different. He totally gave himself to his flock. This is evident when a shepherd is compassionate and ready always to sacrifice for the sake of those he has been sent to. (This applies to all everyone who leads anywhere, not just priests)
The Church has often been faced with sheep who go astray due to the negligence of shepherds. Today, many in erstwhile Christian countries have abandoned their faith, and sometimes live their lives in a way that shows hatred for their Christian roots. On the other hand, in countries where the faith still blossom, we are often faced with a flourishing religiosity that lacks the power to transform the society from within (This does not rule out the fact that these countries have faithful Christians or shepherds who strive daily). It is not difficult to find religious leaders who want to follow the tide. Often, their motivation is not to preach the truth, but to tell people what they want to hear. Anyone who takes an honest assessment of the religious situation today knows that the minister of God is often under the pressure of relevance. He has to mount the pulpit to dish out the gospel of prosperity or political correctness.