16th Sunday OT: Sheep and Shephards

Two related points about this week's readings.

First, it is difficult for me, as a woman religious, to hear Ezekiel’s description of  “bad shepherds” behavior without thinking of recent acts of power by authorities in the Catholic Church. Whether pondering the abuse of children and the failure of “shepherds” to own up fully to their responsibility or the disrespectful harassment of North American Sisters and the secretive processes structuring that act, the words are sobering for all in positions of leadership.  It is more satisfying, sometimes, to feel a victim than a victimizer, but likely we are all both, by turns and need these readings crucially.

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This leads to the second point: The sheep/shepherd metaphor or symbol is complex and deep, even thorough. As Scripture develops it, we are sometimes shepherds and sometimes sheep; there are good an bad shepherds, good and bad sheep. God, normally a shepherd, takes on the characteristics of the Lamb in the person of Jesus. The lamb in the psalm is narrated as feeling secure though with the recollection of more troubled days, as other biblical lambs can attest to. Sheep eat and are eaten. The livelihood of shepherding is prosaic and even sometimes seen as dishonorable and can take the wind out of sails that tend toward the overly romantic. The care of animals is also made to serve as training for those who would be king, at least for Saul and David. Sheep are famously stupid, though in Scripture they convey much insight that we need.  

Rather than yielding to simple application, images like this one invite us to plunge into each aspect of what is offered and scrutinize, test, appropriate all parts of the experience. I am not backing off my initial sense that Church leaders are given a mirror in the Ezekiel reading.  But so are the rest of us. We are all offered a series of them mirrors in which to look as honestly as we can do.

Barbara Green, O.P.

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