John Zada, WIkimedia Commons

The shepherd always looks after His flock

  • November 13, 2014

Christ the King (Year A) Nov. 23 (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46) 

There are many models of power and authority in the world but far too many of them are based on brute force, authoritarianism and domination. When coupled with a powerful ideology, they have enslaved millions and been the cause of countless deaths. There are less dramatic forms that constrict thought and expression or seek to control the lives of others. 

The Scriptures give us a fairly consistent description of what true power and authority is: compassionate care for others and concern for the common good. 

Ezekiel contrasted some of the corrupt leaders of Israel with what a true ruler should be like. He used a symbol that would have been familiar to most — the shepherd. The shepherd’s entire life and all of his energy is expended in care for his flock. He seeks out those that are lost, feeds and heals them, and rescues them from danger and the depredations of predators. 

In fact, in Ezekiel’s passage, this is how God described God’s own role in human affairs. Since human leaders had failed so miserably, God was coming to do the job Himself. 

In the New Testament Jesus used this symbol of the good shepherd to describe Himself (John 10), as well the ideal actions of a truly spiritual person (Luke 15). Compassion, kindness and care for others is more than something “nice” to do. They have power and authority of their own and will not be overturned or thwarted. 

In recent years, many have been disheartened and disillusioned by examples of some shepherds that have not cared for their flock. But this is an opportunity for conversion and growth on the part of the Church — Pope Francis has repeatedly used the symbol of the shepherd and the sheep to exhort us to greater compassion, mercy and closeness to the flock. We all share that responsibility, for when we reflect the qualities of the good shepherd we reveal God. 

As the one who rules the world, Jesus Christ seeks to disarm, neutralize and bring into subjection all forces that are opposed to God and to human well-being. As Paul assured us, this will be a long process, and one in which we must take part. Looming at the very end of this undertaking stands the biggest enemy of them all — death — but even death will be overpowered by the love of God in Christ. 

Who is pleasing in God’s sight and how do we draw closer to God? The answer is not what some may think — the group we belong to or the label we wear is of secondary if any importance. The first group of “sheep” to come before the king in Matthew’s final judgment scene were surprised that the king invited them to enter because they had tended to his needs when he was hungry, naked, sick, lonely and in prison. They asked when they had done this, to which he replied that when they did it to the least, they did it to him. 

The king, Jesus, embodied all of those compassionate qualities, and when they did likewise, they were united with Him. None of those actions was explicitly religious and they were unaware that they were doing anything exceptional. They were just acting from a deep sense of compassion. When they saw someone in need they responded appropriately — nothing more or less. 

Those barred from the kingdom were shocked and incredulous. They demanded to know when they had seen the king in need and failed to tend to him and they got almost the same answer. When they failed to do these things to the least, they failed to do it to him. 

The deadlier sins are those of omission. A failure to love and a choice for indifference or selfishness place barriers between us and God. We all fail in these categories from time to time, but when they become a habitual pattern, we die spiritually. Compassion, kindness, generosity and justice bond us with God for they are practical expressions of love. 

We cannot go wrong walking this path. Since these values are shared by many belief systems and religious traditions, they can be a fruitful common ground for working together. Closer to home, they continually illuminate the path to God’s kingdom for us. We need only to follow. 

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