Within the nation of Israel the image of the shepherd with his flock became a way of thinking about leaders of people, especially priests and kings. As the shepherd protected and cared for his flock, the leaders of the people were to protect and care for God’s flock. But shepherds were not always good to their sheep.
The prophet Ezekiel paints a picture of a flock scattered throughout the world. The shepherds had failed the people. Thus, God declares that he himself will be their shepherd. Ezekiel uses the following action terms to describe God’s love for his people: look after, tend, rescue, lead, gather, bring back, and pasture. When the sheep are scattered, it is cloudy and dark, the ravines are treacherous and the ground is not fit for grazing, God will find them rich pasture and good grazing ground. He will give rest to the weary, seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the injured, heal the sick, but destroy the sleek and the strong.
The 23rd Psalm includes many of these same ideas except that the perspective is from one of the sheep. If the Lord is my shepherd, what could I possibly lack? The Shepherd gives us rest, repose, refreshment for our souls. He guides and protects us. Our lives overflow with his goodness. God’s protection calms us, gives us courage, and helps us to have hope. I lack nothing now or in the future, come what may.
The Gospel reading is the story of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost sheep. What a beautiful picture! The shepherd searches for the lost until he finds it, puts it on his shoulders with great joy, carries it home, and then throws a party for his friends and neighbors. Do I really feel that way about the people in our world who seem to have no moral compass, no hope for the future, no knowledge of the love God has for them, who can only be described as lost? When was the last time I rejoiced because the lost had been found? Do I care about the lost? Do I believe that anybody actually is lost, that anyone might be a sinner who needs to repent? Could this partially explain the lack of joy that we sometimes experience as disciples of Jesus? Perhaps it is a thing of the past to believe that people are lost and need to repent. If, in fact, people are lost, won’t the love of God within us cause us to seek them even as the Good Shepherd sought us?
If this sounds arrogant, then perhaps a good dose of the second reading is the antidote. Christ died for the helpless, the ungodly, sinners, his enemies. We have been all of that and worse but he died for us anyway. He demonstrated his love with his blood. What is produced in the heart of a person who has been reconciled with God in this way? It is a heart filled with the love of Jesus. The love of the Most Sacred Heart is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. How else could we possibly remain humble before the Shepherd who has saved us and yet boldly seek to save those of his sheep who are still lost?
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