“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Ps. 23:1
This Sunday, as we have for the last two weekends, continue reading from chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel. We find Jesus welcoming back his apostles after returning from their mission trip to “preach repentance” to the villages in the vicinity of Nazareth. Their mission trip was so successful that vast crowds now followed them and they had no time to even eat. Jesus recognizes that his friends need respite from their work, so he invites them to embark on a boat destined for a deserted place, so that they might rest for a while. However, the persistent crowd had another plan and presumably a great need, Mark writes in versus 34, “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” And so it is for the shepherds of God’s flock, the needs of the people are greater than the needs of the one who is shepherd. In so saying, there should be acknowledgement that Jesus was no ordinary shepherd but The Good Shepherd, the model for all who serve God’s people. He is the Good Shepherd who leaves none behind. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life willingly for the sake of those under his keep, so that they might have peace and life in abundance.
In our church history we’ve had several good earthly shepherds working cooperatively through the Holy Spirit, to lead God’s people including Popes, Bishops, Priests, Deacons and many laypeople; and each willing to lay down their lives for the sake of those they serve. In this pandemic era many gave their lives in service to the people’s needs and for the sacraments. In recent months we witnessed firsthand the commitment and courage that is required to lead one’s flock. Our pastor, Fr. Gilberto, although ailing and in great discomfort, persevered nonetheless with his pastoral duties as much as possible at great risk to his own health and wellbeing. To be a shepherd of God’s people is to invite hardship, which is in great contrast to our first reading from Jeremiah, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.” Jer. 23:1. The Profit Jeremiah is admonishing the current king and other leaders who are guilty of dereliction of duty and self-interest. They have either allowed the Israelites to stray from the Law and who have now fallen into idolatry or they have encouraged it. Either way the results are the same, the shepherds have failed and the Lord will tolerate no more. It’s convenient that the flock or God’s people have allowed the shepherds to take the fall for their sins; we don’t really need a bad shepherd to lead us astray or into sin; we can do that just fine for ourselves. We fail to see that surrender to the shepherdship of God is to live in peace without apprehension and fearing nothing.
The psalmist, David in today’s Psalm reading captures what it means to be in the care of The Good Shepherd with the most amazing imagery; “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” Ps 23:1-3. In his writings, David is inviting the reader to put their life under God’s care. He is providing a metaphorical vision of what life is like under the care of the Lord. “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” We can live secure in the hope that one day we shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come, all we have to do is accept him as David did.