Each of today's readings deals with someone charged with care for others -- presbyters, shepherds, St. Peter and, by extension, his papal descendants who carry the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. I must admit that for decades readings like these let me see myself as the object of another's care. Especially with the Psalm about the Good Shepherd, I considered myself in the role of the protected one, by God the Father, and by Jesus.
In reflecting on these scriptural passages now, though, (and I hope it's not too late, after several decades of teaching!) my interpretation has turned itself upside down, or inside out. Maybe I have not been just the one cared for in God's loving scheme, but maybe all along I, with so many of us in our different individual roles, have been the caretaker.
We of course will always be members of the flock, and when we stray our Lord will bring us home. God has of course given from His goodness so that our cup overflows. We are the recipients of His mercy, of His fulfilling life. But it's also so that many of us, whatever our age, have roles in which we, too, are shepherds. From the Bishop of Rome to the "people in the pews," from the general to the sergeant, the CEO to the attendant at the company parking lot, the Supreme Court Justice to the bailiff at the county court, the grande dame to the den mother, we have roles in which we can guide and defend others, and provide them with assistance when they are in distress.
And so I ask myself, as a man who has never had great authority
or burdensome responsibility but who has nevertheless had the responsibilities
of a camp counselor, a teacher, a father, a leader in some community
groups: have I shepherded after the model of Jesus the Good Shepherd?
My own opportunities to lead will not increase, considering my age,
but I'll still be among people whom I may serve as a guide. Today's
readings suggest to me, and I like to think, many other readers, that
we have no reason for lording over a flock by using constraint for
"shameful profit." Rather, as laymen or clergymen, as individuals
in positions high or low, we all have keys with which we can open
up for others the Kingdom of God's goodness.
God protects me. No doubt about it. May I in turn, with kindness and humility, keep the pastures green for those I meet who are in need of a resting place.
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