The readings of Today’s Liturgy are filled with images of shepherds and sheep. In biblical times, the word “shepherd” could connote two different notions of shepherds. The first is a man who has care of herds of sheep leading them to food and water; the second was a man who was a leader and protector of his people.
This second notion is the understanding of “shepherd” intended by Jeremiah in the first reading when he spoke out against all the priests and leaders of Israel who were not doing their job – not being true to their vocation. He wanted them to know that they would be punished and removed by God. “Woetotheshepherdswhomisleadandscattertheflock of my pasture,youhavescatteredMysheepanddriventhemaway.Youhavenotcaredforthem,andIwillpunishyourevildeeds.”
These words of the prophet have not been preserved for us all these centuries just to let us know something about the past. Nor have they been preserved for merely the Bishops Priests and Deacons of our day. They have been preserved for kings, presidents, social workers, teachers, parents, and anybody with even only one person under their care and influence.
All of us are being warned in these words to ask ourselves what we have been doing with those in our care – our spouse, our children, our families, our employees. Jesus used the image of “shepherd” because He knew that people needed a shepherd to guide them. Too often they had been scattered by civil and religious leaders who cared more about their own comfort and security than for their people. Jesus came to gather these lost and abandoned sheep through His Passion, death, and Resurrection.
As the people of the early Church recited our Responsorial Psalm, they believed it to be a summary of how they had been ransomed through Jesus Christ. He was the one who would bring them into the green pastures of abundant life. He was the one who through Baptism had led them “Beside restful waters to refresh their souls” He was the one who was feeding them with the Eucharist “Spreading the table before them.” He was the one who “anointed their heads with oil” in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
This Psalm’s refrain, “The Lord is my Shepherd: there is nothing I shall want, ” is our response to the Good Shepherd who has gathered us here in this Basilica. The Psalm proclaims our faith. If the Lord Jesus is truly our shepherd, then – and only then – shall we want for nothing; He knows in advance what we need, and He alone can satisfy our deepest hungers.
As Mark says in the Gospel today, Jesus knows the hunger of all people who seek Him out – they are shepherd-less sheep; and sheep without a shepherd starve; we need the true shepherd to show us where the food is, where the verdant pastures can be found. Jesus satisfies those needs. What a contrast to the Old Testament shepherds who didn’t care!
Jesus is as close to us now as He was to the people we read about in the Gospel: but sometimes we prefer to listen to the voices of other shepherds who try to call us away from Him and from His Church. They have names like Power, Pleasure, Wealth, Envy, Injustice, Peer pressure. They are the communication media. They are some of our friends or even family members. They are the leaders of our society who give the impression that we do not need to listen to the voice of the one and only true Good Shepherd.
They tell us: we are free-thinking people; we can decide what is morally good or evil for ourselves; we don’t need the Church telling us what we can or cannot do; we can skip Mass whenever we please; we can let our children neglect their religious education and determine for themselves whether or not they will attend Mass; we can get married outside the Church if we want to; we can live with someone outside of a Sacramental marriage and still receive Communion if we want to; we can engage in sexual activity outside of marriage if we want to; in fact, we can do anything we want to any time we want to with anyone we want to be with.
These are very popular – but false – teachings from the mouths of “False Shepherds” proclaiming errors that have become widely accepted by many Catholic people – but which are contrary to the Divine Law of God. If we listen to the false shepherds and accept their voices as the truth, then we deceive ourselves and put ourselves on the path that leads to total separation from God.
The readings from the Sacred Scripture today call each of us to open wide the doors of our hearts to the voice of Jesus Christ our “Shepherd” and the voice of His Church. We are being challenged – once again this Sunday – never to rest on a journey seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We are being called to take our faith more seriously and live it with every fiber of our being!
May we have the courage to listen to, and put into action – this call – this vocation – this demand of Jesus Christ our “Good Shepherd”!