The young priest was teaching the 23rd psalm, our psalm for today, to the 6th grade religious education class. He told them that they were sheep who needed guidance. Then the priest asked them, "If you are the sheep then who is the shepherd?", expecting that they would indicate that he was their shepherd. After a few second silence, as is typical with six graders, especially boys, one young boy said, "Jesus. Jesus is the shepherd." The young priest, obviously caught by surprise said to the boy, "Well then, who am I?" The boy frowned thoughtfully and then said, "I guess you must be the sheep dog."
In today's reading from Jeremiah, Jeremiah had what you might call fire in his belly, essentially tongue-lashing the human shepherds, the leaders of his day, for not caring for, misleading, scattering, and driving away the Israelites from following their faith in the one true God. He knew that David, who we attribute the Psalms to, had been a good king and he was expecting one of David's descendents, Zedekiah, whose name means, "the Lord our righteousness" might this good shepherd. It didn't come out that way. We know that, even though Jeremiah didn't realize it, he was foretelling the coming of Jesus some 600 years in the future.
In our reading from Paul to the Ephesians, in no uncertain terms he tells us that God, Jesus, fulfills the prophesies of the our Good Shepherd, abolishing the 613 laws and legal claims of the Jews and brings us all together, giving us peace and reconciliation.
In today's Gospel Jesus provides an example of what a good Shepherd is to be. When his disciples come back from a highly successful trip, teaching, healing and showing compassion and forgiveness, they could hardly share their joy and get a little r & r with Jesus or even eat because so many people were coming and going. Jesus, recognizing their needs even though he had just become aware of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, said "Let's go to a place where we can be alone and get some rest." But that didn't work even though they went off in a boat to deserted place. The people beat them to their destination and Jesus' reaction was to be "moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things."
Talk about a stressful life! How would each of us respond in a situation like that? How would you or I be able to handle a time of bereavement, celebration of success coupled with a need for compassion? About then maybe we would rather be a sheepdog. Of course there are few characteristics common between a good shepherd and a sheep dog including:
1.When a loved one comes home, always run to greet them.
2.When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
3.Never pretend to be someone you are not.
7.Be willing to sacrifice to accomplish your job/ministry
Of course that is just the beginning of a good shepherd. In order to be the one God expects each of us to be God expects us to use all the talents gifted us with. Some of us are called to be teachers, some healers, some leaders and on the list goes. In order to accomplish those ministries God calls each of us to recognize Jesus as our primary Shepherd who as Psalm 23 tells us: leads us, refreshes us, loves us unconditionally, guides us in right paths, gives us courage and provides all we need.
With all that help how can we refuse to be both a good sheep dog and a good shepherd?