Before Mass: The first reading scares me today – it is a warning to all pastors who fail to keep the flock together. Woe to you shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock! You know – there are many members of our flock who will not be with us this weekend… is that MY fault? Is there something I taught that I shouldn’t have? Is there something I failed to teach that I should have? God promises to punish me and Fr. Eugene if we DON’T do everything in our power to keep HIS flock together. This is serious business with eternal consequences.
Today - Be thinking for yourself about two questions: The big question is this: who is MY shepherd? Who do I allow to lead me?
And secondly – in some way – every ONE of us is responsible for keeping the flock together… so ask yourself what role do I play in scattering the flock? In what way to do I work to keep the flock together?
They were like Sheep without a Shepherd….
What do you mean no shepherds? They had synagogues and temples with rabbis and priests and scholars of the law....they had plenty of shepherds. Plenty of people who claimed to be in charge of the flock. But… Jesus himself said – ‘they were like sheep without a shepherd’.
What did Jesus see in them? What does a sheep without a shepherd look like? I don’t have experience myself – but I’m told that merino sheep are very high on the brain scale. If they’re caught in a flood, they won’t move to higher ground. If a wildfire is headed their way, they’ll run around in a circle until the fire catches them. If water is available in three corners of the pen, they’ll all gather in the fourth corner and die of dehydration. Now this may be exaggeration, but who am I to say. Is THAT what Jesus saw that made him think the people were sheep without a shepherd? Was he calling them stupid? I don’t think so… There’s another story I heard of a ship carrying sheep across the water and one Ram jumped off… and the entire herd followed and drowned.
THIS that might explain what Jesus saw. Sheep WANT to follow a leader. While they have their individuality, their instinct is to follow. Without a GOOD leader, they’ll follow anything.
Jesus saw that the people were searching for a leader –
The religious leaders of the day who were SUPPOSED to care for the flock hadn’t done the job. Religion was not about relationship with God – only rules. All those rules were used to EXCLUDE people. The average guy couldn’t competed… Just to go to the temple, they had to go through a series of ritual washings just to enter the temple… so much so that most would say, “I can’t compete...I can never be good enough…I’m not even worthy to go to church…
Jesus knew these people were like sheep without a shepherd – they were SEARCHING for a leader. They would follow anybody who gave them hope –because as far as they knew, they had been excluded from God’s kingdom. They were cut off from God!
Is that you and I? Are we looking for a someone to follow? Will we follow any teaching that makes us feel good? That’s really the main question of the day: who do I allow to teach me? Who do I allow to shepherd me? Political leaders?, Donald Trump? radioand tv?, friends, Internet?.. and likewise: Who leads your children?
This is where the psalm comes in… the Lord is my Shepherd… in verdant pastures he gives me repose… do you know what that really means? We don’t say‘verdant’ and ‘repose’ very often… in fact, I only say that when I’m reciting this psalm J … what’s it mean? Verdant is green – kind of like it is here after all the rain – lush, green, lot’s of grass. Repose means sleep!... So it’s really saying ‘in green pastures he gives me sleep’ –This is important if you understand the geography in Israel – it’s pretty dry, so as soon as the flock awakened, the shepherd would drive them like 10 miles to find a new pasture because they all the grass the night before and slept where there was no grass left. You woke up hungry and had to walk for hours before you could eat again…The Good shepherd takes us to a pasture that is so plentiful…so verdant, we can start eating as soon as we get up in the morning.
‘By restful waters he leads me’… the watering holes were a dangerous place… predators would lurk there, so sheep were scared even to approach it. But the good shepherd takes us to a watering hole where we don’t have to be afraid.
‘Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side’
This surely applies to us… we all go through dark times. In those moments, often our only source of courage and peace is our shepherd. If we didn’t have Jesus beside us in those times of despair, how could we go on?
So – is HE? Is Jesus YOUR shepherd?
Can we honestly say that we look to our shepherd at the beginning of each day to thank Him for the verdant pastures around us – all those blessings he gives us:... the house we live in, the bed we woke up in, the food awaiting us in the kitchen.
Do we look to Jesus to guide us throughout the day? To protect us from evil?
Or – do we only follow Him when it’s convenient…politically correct… or when there’s something in it for us? Back to our big question of the day: if we DON’T allow Jesus to lead us every minute of the day, who DO we allow to lead us the rest of the time?
Whereas the good shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness, any other leader will lead us down many wrong paths. We don’t have to look far to see how the culture is leading us away from God and toward evil. Our culture is like a wolf, picking off one lamb at a time…. devouring souls. The sad part is that in many respects, we’ve done it to ourselves.
Our culture has chosen shepherds who publicly made it clear that they stand against the teachings of the Church…and some of them even call themselves Catholic. As Americans, we are free to choose them… but when we choose shepherds like that - we can’t be surprised that they’ll put into place a set of judges who will redefine the foundations of our society. Obviously, I’m referring to the series of court decisions on abortion rights and the recent decision about the definition of Marriage. Honestly, the day is likely coming where we won’t get married in Church anymore. More likely, you’ll come to the Church for the Sacrament of Matrimony… then go to the courthouse to have the marriage license signed. Christianity is under attack…But we knew that when we chose who we wanted to follow.
It’s still our choice: We can choose to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd – or we can choose to follow anybody who makes us feel good… but we might find ourselves following them off the side of the ship.