July 22, 2012 – Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Shepherding imagery was very familiar to the people in Jesus’ place and time, and to those before them. So, we often see the Lord refer to His people as sheep in parables and the like. While for us here in the western world, the work of a shepherd is often unseen — most of us have never and will never work with sheep — the Israelites knew it well. They watched as the shepherds cared for their sheep as if they were their children. The shepherds made sure the sheep had everything they needed, and gently herded them in at night, making sure each was accounted for. So today, as we reflect on the scripture readings, we have to put ourselves in their shoes, and think for a moment about the job of a shepherd.
A shepherd takes care to groom his sheep on a regular basis, making sure they are free of any contamination from the world. He personally leads them through the pastures, walking them wherever they go. And if one wanders off, he is sure to go find him, no matter the work involved. He then leads them back to the fold at night, and then lies with them to protect them from wolves. Indeed, the shepherd is responsible for every aspect of the sheep’s care and protection. His job is an important and all-encompassing one. We note this when we reflect on the state of the sheep themselves. They are animals that cannot care and protect themselves. They are completely dependent on their shepherd for their well-being.
Today, we are reminded throughout the readings that the Lord is our shepherd. Therefore, as Psalm 23 tells us, “There is nothing I shall want.” He provides for all of our needs. He loves and cares for each one of us in such a deep way that He is sure to give us what we need. He will lead us in the ways of righteousness, to protect us from the ways of the world. He is here for us, always.
We see that played out in both the first reading for today and the gospel.
In the first reading, the Lord addresses the leaders He has appointed to care for His people, but they failed to live up to the task. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture … You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them … I myself will gather the remnant of my flock … and bring them back to their meadow.” And then He tells them, “I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king He shall reign and govern wisely.”
And then in the Gospel, we see “the shoot to David,” Christ Jesus, caring for the people’s needs as it should be done.
Christ and His disciples had traveled from town to town preaching the Gospel, and Christ knew that they all needed some rest. So, they took a boat to a place where they could be alone for a little while. However, the people needed Jesus. They wanted to hear His Gospel. They wanted to be in His presence. So, they followed.
Upon seeing the crowd, the evangelist tells us, Jesus “saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began … ”
He will never abandon us, as He knows that we depend on Him. Like sheep without a shepherd, we are helpless without Him. He loves us more than we could ever imagine, so He wants nothing but the best for us. Therefore, He provides for all our needs. He cares for us, He leads us, and He protects us. All we have to do is surrender ourselves to His care. If we give ourselves to the Lord, recognizing that we were created to live for Him, we are sure to be forever cared for in every single way.