Like a Shepherd
Jesus is the Good Shepherd - this idea for Christ is warm, welcoming, and unwavering. Jesus as the Good Shepherd introduces children to Christ, is found in parables and teachings, and offers a comparison to the Paschal Lamb, Jesus’ sacrifice of love for all of us. A shepherd guides their flock to pasture, caring for the needs of each sheep, ensuring they receive the rest they require. This is the image of God we are offering in Christ the Good Shepherd; a God who cares for the needs of those who are weak or disadvantaged. Though typically not the story we correlate with Jesus the Good Shepherd, in today’s Gospel we receive more evidence of the role.
I have never met a shepherd. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who works with livestock of any kind. My associations with shepherds are all from the Bible, movies, and books. The ancient profession has long been considered strong, humble, and caring. I have no idea if these perceptions reflect the truth of shepherds, but they allow me to imagine a steady, secure leader always seeking the best for those in their care. Matthew states that the crowds waiting for Jesus’ Word “were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus’ feelings toward the group cause him to reflect on the fact that there is a great need for capable, trustworthy guides. Part of Jesus’ ministry was calling to those he could depend on to carry on the faith.
Matthew’s story reminds us of the need for leaders in our Church and communities, especially in a world where Good Shepherds are few and far between. As Jesus notes, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” I do not, for the most part, see myself in the leaders present in the Church, in the United States, in the world today. They generally don’t seem to listen to people who do not look like them. They often seem to be motivated by material wealth, power, and prestige, as opposed to poverty, prejudice, and violence. This often frustrates me as I hope for a more warm, welcoming, and unwavering world, where our leaders truly act like the shepherds they are meant to be.
I am drawn to the pity Jesus felt for the crowd that had followed him; these were men, women, and children who desperately sought something more, something better, something that would fill them. They sought the Good Shepherd, the ultimate guide to happiness in eternal life. When his time on earth came to a close, Jesus entrusted his mission to others who have since shared the roadmap to God. We too can be these shepherds, drawing others to the light of Christ. By our Baptism, we are inspired to be the laborers Jesus hoped would help lead the flock. We can be those who reflect the Good Shepherd in our words and actions.