Acts 2:14, 36-41, 1 Peter 2:20-25, John 10:1-10
On the Gospel, The Good Shepherd
The pastor of a rich suburban parish was speaking to the Sunday school kids. He told them that as the pastor he was like a shepherd and the members of his congregation were the sheep. He then put this question to them: “What does the shepherd do for the sheep?” A little fellow in the front row raised his hands and answered, “He fleeces them.” True enough, shepherds go into the business for the purpose of fleecing, milking and feeding on the sheep. But when the Bible speaks of the leaders of God’s people as shepherds, it envisions leaders who feed, protect and feel with the people as a good shepherd does for his flock.
The title “shepherd” in the Hebrew Bible refers primarily to God who shepherds His people. This is brought out in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd” (responsorial psalm). Here God is portrayed as a faithful and good shepherd who leads the flock into well-being and abundance (“green pastures”) and keeps them safe from every danger (“valley of darkness”) such that they want for nothing and fear no evil even as they are surrounded by their foes (wolves and lions). Kings, as God’s anointed deputies, were also referred to as shepherds. But some of them only got the title and not the qualities of a shepherd. Instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to their care they fed on them. God raised up prophets like Ezekiel to denounce such shepherds:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-6)
Who says the Bible is out of touch with modern reality? Does this not sound like a description of Christ’s flock today? Don’t we still have career pastors and evangelists who are more interested in their own comfort than in the spiritual advancement of their congregations? Don’t we have white-collar ministers who would pontificate in their offices or churches and never take a step to reach out to the weak, the sick, the strayed? Don’t we still have church authorities who “rule” with force and harshness? Are the people of God not scattered over the mountains and hills in search of spiritual nourishment?
On account of the infidelity of the shepherds to their divine calling, God made this promise to his people that He Himself was going to be their shepherd, their good shepherd (Ezekiel 34:15-16). This promise was fulfilled in Jesus who declared himself to be the Good Shepherd who has come “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his own life to protect his flock. In those days, shepherds guarding their flock by night would gather their flocks into an enclosure and sleep literally by lying across the entrance so that before a wild beast would attack the sheep it would have to attack them first.
Before Jesus left the world, he commissioned Peter to feed his lambs and tend his sheep (John 21:15-16). The work of shepherding God’s flocks is an ongoing task that is entrusted to the whole church with Peter as head. As today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, we need to ask ourselves two important questions. (1) Am I a faithful member of God’s flock? Only those sheep who follow the guidance of the shepherd could ever hope to arrive at the green pastures or be safe from the ravenous wolves. (2) How could I participate more closely in the work of shepherding God’s flock? Bishops and pastors, as well as Sunday school teachers and ushers – all participate in various forms of shepherding God’s flock. How can I be a better shepherd in my own state, reaching out with understanding and compassion to the weak and misguided dropouts of church and society, so that through me they may hear the loving voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd?