Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21
Psalm 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Today's readings bring up the much-loved image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The first reading from Hebrews speaks of people who lead us, and of God as "the great shepherd of the sheep." Then we have the beautiful Twenty-Third Psalm; as a child I memorized this, so that I can still recite it fairly easily. When I compare the words of my memory with other translations (for example, "He leads me into green pastures" with "In verdant pastures he gives me repose") my sense of the words wakes up, and the psalm is both familiar and new.
The Gospel shows Jesus as a leader who takes good care of his apostles, even taking them away to rest on a kind of mini-vacation or retreat. He himself doesn't get to rest; people eager for his leadership travel overland to the place where he and his men are arriving by boat. And Jesus sees that the crowd is "like sheep without a shepherd," so what does he do? He "began to teach them many things."
On one hand, we may not like thinking of ourselves as sheep, and less as "sheepish," and we certainly hate being "like sheep to the slaughter." On the other, the sheep/Shepherd imagery is not only natural to Jesus's first century Mediterranean culture, but also clear to us 21st century Christians. We understand the implications of trust, obedience, and belonging to a group on the sheep's side, and care, responsibility, wise guidance, and even self-sacrifice on the part of the Shepherd.
And besides, in today's busy-ness, it's just very appealing to hear Jesus's invitation to "rest a while." In today's confusing world of clashing values, it's good to contemplate the figure of Jesus as Leader, Shepherd, Teacher, who sees that people need food and rest, but also need knowledge and understanding. So "he began to teach them many things." As a teacher, I am stirred by this and pray, "Dear Teacher, teach me!"
Probably at all times, but certainly this year, at this time in the course of history, we want, we need good leaders. In each aspect of our lives -- our civic lives, our jobs, our families, our churches, and our places in the wide, wide world -- we want good shepherds. We long for real leaders to inspire and guide us. We want to be led by shepherds who are wise, constructive, patient, resourceful, and just -- and in all ways: GOOD.
Today we might pray for all the leaders we have -- our political
leaders, our religious leaders, our community leaders, our supervisors
and teachers and parents -- we pray that they may be good shepherds of
those over whom they have authority, and for whom, in turn, they bear responsibility.
And let us pray that they also will be good sheep, in that they will be
led by the Good Shepherd of all. Let God, in his Son, our loving
Savior, lead us to the "verdant pastures" of prosperity and by the "restful
waters" of peace.
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