Today’s Liturgy presents to us the rich image of the shepherd. Shepherds are so much a part of the Christmas story that we may miss the fact that these were the outcasts of Jesus’ day. They were considered the lowest of the low because their job required them to be constantly with the sheep which also kept them from going to synagogue and Temple as well as from keeping the Sabbath. Yet, it was to these poor and lowly fellows that the Angels first announced the glad tidings of the coming of the messiah and it was this image which Jesus used for his own ministry as the Good Shepherd.
In the Hebrew Scriptures we see that both Moses and David were shepherding flocks at the time they were called into the service of leadership. And throughout David’s long reign as king, God consistently reminded him that He took him from the fields to shepherd His people. This theme is even deeper and richer in the story of Israel. Recall the answer Cain gave to God when questioned about his brother, Abel’s whereabouts. “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” Cain uses a shepherding term as if to say, “I refuse to be a shepherd like my brother! I refuse the responsibility of caring for others. I want to be in control, to be my own compass.”
We can see why Jesus uses this most lowly profession as a model for discipleship as well as for the ministry of leadership.
- A shepherd lives with his sheep, and as Pope Francis has reminded us, he even smells like them!
- A Shepherd spends so much time with his flock that the sheep find comfort in his voice and will listen to his voice alone.
- A Shepherd walks ahead of his flock, taking on any attacks, clearing away any obstacles, making a safe path.
- A Shepherd is nomadic and free, willing to move wherever the sheep need to go for good pasture and clean water.
- And as Jesus reminds us, a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his flock.
- And so, during this Advent Season, we can pray that we may grow to have the heart of a shepherd.
Give me, O Lord, a Shepherd’s Heart
Give me, O Lord, a shepherd’s heart.
Ever watchful and ready,
Willing to be lead by you, my Good Shepherd.
Make me quick to see the needs of others,
The wandering, the lonely,
The endangered, the slow,
The weak, those on the fringes and margins.
Give me, O Lord, a shepherd’s heart,
Simple and Uncomplicated,
Direct and without Duplicity
Steadfast and Faithful.
May my eyes be awake and watchful
May my heart be pure and truthful
May my courage be strong and enduring
That I might hear your voice,
My Beloved Shepherd,
And follow wherever
you lead me. Amen
Sr. Kathleen Burns, SND