16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I always remember when on holiday in the country wondering how the shepherds knew their sheep. When we would go up to Donegal from Omagh where we stayed with granny We would sometimes go through the Barnes more Gap with the hills rising very steeply on both sides of the road, with the sheep dotted here and there all around those hills and sometimes the shepherds with them. The image of the shepherd is quite an ancient one with Jesus being portrayed as the Good Shepherd. Today’s Scripture is all about the Shepherd looking after his sheep. With the various violent events of recent times in the USA and in Syria and other places it is good to know that we have a good shepherd looking after us.
What does the image of a shepherd tell us about God’s care for us? Shepherding was one of the oldest of callings in Israel, even before farming, since the Chosen People had travelled from place to place, living in tents, and driving their flocks from one pasture to another. Looking after sheep was no easy calling. It required great skill and courage. Herds were often quite large, thousands or even ten thousands of sheep. The flocks spent a good part of the year in the open country. Watching over them required a great deal of attention and care. Sheep who strayed from the flock had to be sought out and brought back by the shepherd. Since hyenas, jackals, wolves, and even bear were common and fed on sheep, the shepherds often had to do battle with these wild and dangerous beasts. A shepherd literally had to put his life on the line in defending his sheep.
Shepherds took turns watching the sheep at night to ward off any attackers. The sheep and their shepherds continually lived together. Their life was so intimately bound together that individual sheep, even when mixed with other flocks, could recognize the voice of their own shepherd and would come immediately when called by name.
The image of the shepherd tells us so much about Jesus the Good shepherd and about what he does for all of us who say we are Christians. Each of us is called to be a good shepherd to one another looking after the various needs that the people in the communities in which we live might have. So too our Bishops and priests are also called to be good shepherds after the heart and mind of Jesus leading us along the path that leads to the way the truth and the life. Our own age also has many sheep without shepherds ‑ a great wandering crowd of gods people , seeking something, but not knowing what they are seeking. The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ the son of God. It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep.
We stop on this day to spare a thought and a prayer for all those who have been affected by the events in Denver in the USA. We pray for the 12 people who have died and their families and we pray for the injured and all those who are close to them at this horrible time. May God through Jesus the Good shepherd give them strength to continue their lives in his love.