Good Shepherds do not shout at sinners — or scatter their flock
A Reflection for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In calling himself “the Good Shepherd,” Christ likened us to his sheep, but every simile has a limit. Our Lord did not herd livestock, and we are not animals. Indeed, the challenge in Christ’s analogy lies in a fundamental difference between us and sheep. Sheep do not have any trouble trusting the shepherd. We do.
Christ wants us to trust him, to follow him through the narrow gate and into life itself. If this were easy to do, he would not need to identify himself as the Good Shepherd. If we were real sheep, we would simply follow, but we suffer fears that the animals are spared. We do not simply fear what we see; we are terrified by what we can only imagine.
Worse than a priest proclaiming that he knows who is going to hell is the delight that so many find in his approach.
Faith casts out fear but only in the measure that it grows toward perfection. In our own time, when the church and culture are so riven by division, fear, even among people of faith, is understandable. It comes from the very real dangers we perceive, the values we see as threatened. But we cannot allow anxiety to lead to anger. Asperity betrays an absence of faith. Worse than a priest proclaiming that he knows who is going to hell is the delight that so many find in his approach. It is wolves, not shepherds, who snarl.
Some say this is the price of knowing right from wrong. Yes, the church and the United States have lost the way, but when was this ever not the case, save in our own delusions? We have always been those who wander from the way, who need a shepherd.
Jesus does not disdain the ignorant and the sinful. No, he sees, he pities and he engages.
Shepherds, Jeremiah tells us, do not scatter. Christ is the true shepherd. Truth and love are essential qualities of God. Jesus does not disdain the ignorant and the sinful. No, he sees, he pities and he engages.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things (Mk 6:34).
The Good Lord knows that we are afraid. He calls us to himself and asks us to gather others, not scatter them. Those who stay close to the heart of the shepherd do not need to shout. Finding therein both truth and love, they comport themselves with compassion and gentleness. If we love the shepherd, if we seek his heart, we will be like him. That is the way of love.