Sunday July 18, 2021 16th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
The tie in between today’s readings: The shepherd is everything to the sheep.
Being called sheep is not a compliment. Sheep are dumb, helpless animals at the mercy of carnivores and aimless in life’s journey. God, in His love, has not left us on our own, but has Himself taken on the role of shepherd. Even people who don’t know the Bible receive comfort from the words of the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my Shepherd. These six verses sum up the quintessential provisions of God’s care for us. He provides goodness and mercy as we contend with the difficulties, hardships and tragedies in this life. Then, He takes us through the valley of the shadow of death into the next life, to dwell in the house of the Lord forever…ahhh, good stuff. But, as we see in Jeremiah 23: 1-6 and also in Ezekiel 34, not all the shepherds do their duty.
God set up the social and religious leaders in the nation to shepherd the population, but they used their position to fleece the flock. Both the nobles and the priests hold God in contempt. The people follow their lead and stray socially and morally. After many years of warnings by the prophets, God has to act. Verse 3 is interesting because God scatters the flock along with the shepherds. There is a compelling dynamic here. It’s not only failure in leadership that God addresses, but also the flock wants to go its’ own way. All we, like sheep, have gone (always want to go) astray, so if the higher ups aren’t harping on our sin, then we’re not complaining. In the ministry, the sheep have teeth and will bite if you touch them in a sore spot. A pastor that doesn’t rock the boat is often loved. Meanwhile, sin permeates unnoticed as the church degrades from the body of Christ to a Faux-Jesus club. God must judge. The pastor that loves his flock, unlike the nobles and priests in our text, will risk using his rod and staff to keep the sheep on the right path. That is why shepherding leadership is difficult, rare, and always to be respected.
It is hard to imagine that a people drenched in religion would need a shepherd, but in our gospel today, that’s exactly what Jesus sees. Like a couple trapped in a loveless marriage, they went through the motions of sacrifice and keeping the Sabbath, but they yearned for that missing something. Maybe that is why so many people say that they get nothing out of church and drop out. Jesus shows that there is a relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. They hear His voice and follow. After the Resurrection, religion is gone. It’s been replaced by a relationship with the Lamb of God who took away their sin. No more impossible rules and feckless rituals. No more Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or freeman. United under Christ all identity politics are over. To summarize today’s epistle: Old Testament prophesies are fulfilled as the Jewish and Gentile world united to form a new flock under the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep. How about you? Are you a part of His flock? If not, He is looking for you. Call out to Jesus for forgiveness. Give your life to Him. He’ll take you for His own. There is room for you in Jesus’ sheepfold and if you ask the rest of us sheep; it’s really not so baaaad.