I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply (Jer 23:3)
The First Reading that we have this Sunday, taken from the book of Jeremiah, takes us deep into the history of Israel. Through the mouth of the prophet the Lord of Israel speaks against the infidelity of the leaders of his people, who have mislead them both by their evil deeds and their wrong example. The kings have turned to other gods than the Lord, the priests have ceased to offer fitting and acceptable sacrifice to God, and the prophets themselves have condemned themselves to silence, speaking to please men rather than proclaim the word of the Lord. By turning their back on the Lord, they had made themselves unfit to lead the people entrusted to them, God’s own portion, Israel. The Lord’s condemnation of these false shepherds of Israel leads to the reiteration that the He himself will be the one who will guide Israel, the shepherd who would gather the scattered and abandoned sheep, and that he would appoint new leaders who would take care of his people.
The image of the shepherd is one of the most known in the Scriptures. Perhaps one reason for its popularity is that it is one of the Bible’s most endearing and consoling figures. The figure of the shepherd points to God’s tender and firm care for his people. It is the shepherd’s task not only to watch over the sheep, but it also includes following them wherever they go, leading them away from danger and into safer places with abundant food and water. The shepherd also attends to the wounded, the weak and the ill among the sheep. In a word, the figure of the shepherd represents a solicitude for the flock, one that is rooted in the forgetfulness of self. It is a symbol of a love that is selfless, giving life and security to the one that it tends toward. For the people of Israel and for us as well, the figure of the shepherd denotes the enduring love and solicitude of God, who is more caring and loving than any other shepherd. It is a love that gives of itself, one that tends toward the other.
This is a figure that we find fully in Jesus Christ. In him, the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled: Behold, the days are coming, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall rule and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security (Jer 23:5). The gospel of Mark manifests to us that in the heart of the Son of God beats the heart of the Good Shepherd: When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus, moved by this love, proceeds to care for the lost sheep, responding to the deepest needs of the human person. He does not immediately work wonders or wondrous healings, nor does he seek to feed their bellies with a miracle of earthly bread. He began to teach them many things, the Gospel says. Man does not need God to look for what satisfies the flesh and the stomach; it has already been provided for him. However, he needs God to fulfill that deep longing within his heart, which is the desire to be one with God himself.
Man does not live on bread alone (cfr. Deut, 8:2-3; Mt. 4:4); he cannot live without the truth and without love. Jesus, Master and Savior, gives man these two things. Having the words of eternal life, the incarnate Word of God teaches man the supreme law of love, which encapsulates the truth about man’s existence: Man is called to love and be loved by God. By his Word, the Lord Jesus frees us from the ignorance that is the cause of sin. This same Jesus shows us by his own example how much God loves and how much man ought to love by offering himself totally on the Cross. By the Good News that he preached and by his passion and death on the Cross, Jesus Christ shows himself as the Good Shepherd, who has given his life for the sheep.
|THE PALLIUM, symbol and reminder of the shepherding that must be done by the Lord's ministers.|
He continues to give himself to us, he continues to share his life with us through the sacraments of the Church. In the person and ministry of his priests, the Lord continues to gather his people. In his Church he continues to fulfill his words spoken of old, appointing shepherds who will shepherd his faithful, so that they need no longer fear and tremble. Despite of their human weaknesses and frailty, God continues to raise up shepherds, calling men to love Him and serve his Church as priests and bishops. Let us be unceasing in their praying for them, for we know that we have a lot of reasons for doing so: that our priests and bishops may know how to let the love of the Good Shepherd himself shine in their lives, that they may consider their responsibilities with holy fear and trembling.
Through the figure of the Good Shepherd, the Lord likewise calls us to be shepherds to one another, forbearing one another, and forgiving each other (cfr. Col 3:13), to accept one another, just as Christ had accepted us (cfr. Rom 15:17), to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, and bearing one another in love (cfr. Eph. 4:2). May the shepherd in us respond to the call of the love of the Good Shepherd, so that we may as well be instruments and channels through which the mercy and love of God touches the world. AMEN.