Good shepherd, bad shepherd. There are examples of each... In the Bible. In the newspaper. In our own memories of our lives. We'll look at a few passages that discuss both varieties of shepherd in this coming Sunday's readings. When our shepherds are bad, we suffer from fear which will trigger the "Fight or Flight Syndrome" and foster violence, anger, apathy, depression. When we have a good shepherd, we experience peace which fosters confidence, tranquility, trust, joy.
The readings for this, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/071909.shtml, and in your Bible at:
Psalm 23.1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Yes, there are good shepherds and bad shepherds. Jeremiah, in the First Reading, warns those bad shepherds who "mislead and scatter" the Lord's flock that the LORD himself will intervene (Jer. 23.1, 2). He'll punish the evil shepherd and will appoint others to shepherd his flock. These others will gather all the lost sheep from all over the world and bring them back to their fold. There we, the sheep of the Lord's flock, will no longer fear and tremble (v. 4). Jesus, the root of Jesse, the righteous shoot of David (v. 5), is our Good Shepherd. Under his care and watchful eye we dwell in spiritual safety (v. 6).
The Responsorial Psalm is prob'ly the most quoted passage in the entire Bible: "The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing more that I need" (Ps. 23.1) It paints a beautiful picture of what life is like under the personal care and attention of a good shepherd. A key point here is in verse 4: "Even though I walk through the dark valley, I will fear no harm." When the Shepherd is the LORD, there is no fear to trigger any negative syndromes or negative emotions. And it will never end (v. 6).
Paul, in the Second Reading, talks about how Christ brings those of us who were once "far off" near to God by his blood (Eph. 2.13). He's talking about the Jews and the Gentiles, how the Gospel message brought both heritages together into one fold. Some side effects of this coming near to the Good Shepherd are: peace, unity, and ready access to the Spirit (vs 14, 16, 18). We are changed into new people by coming near. It beats the socks off being lost and alone... and fearful!
Jesus, in the Gospel Reading, demonstrates his role of Good Shepherd. The disciples were exhausted. They needed a vacation. Just a few days respite from the constant healing and teaching. Just a chance to sit down to a meal without an interruption. Jesus suggested they all take a boat across the lake and put to shore somewhere deserted (Mark 6.31). It was a good plan, but it didn't work. The throngs of people got wind of where they were headed and beat them there (v. 33). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was moved with pity, found new strength from somewhere, and graciously taught them many things (v. 34). A good shepherd's work is never done.
We are human, we get tired, we lose heart. When we are in this state we are more susceptible to the vile things that fear can stir up within us. But the Good Shepherd always has time for us. To meet our needs, to give us rest in green pastures, to lead us beside still waters, and to restore our souls. He does a better job at that than any vacation ever could.
So take heart, our Good Shepherd will ensure that our souls will dwell in peace.
"Those who cannot relax say something could go wrong at any time!"