A young priest was teaching the 23rd psalm to a 6th grade religious education class. He told them that they were sheep who needed guidance. He asked them, "If you are the sheep who is your shepherd?" and he expected them to tell him that he was the shepherd. After a few seconds of silence one of the boys said that Jesus was his shepherd. The priest then asked, "If Jesus is your shepherd 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 be 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's letter to the Ephesians, in no uncertain terms tells us that God, Jesus, fulfills the prophesies of our Good Shepherd, abolishing the 613 laws and legal claims of the Jews and bring us all together, giving us peace and reconciliation.
In today's Gospel Jesus provides and 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 persons 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 a 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 and 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 than a shepherd. Of course there are quite a few characteristics common between a good shepherd and a good sheepdog including:
1. Be loyal.
2. Be forgiving
3. Be faithful
4. Be willing to sacrifice to accomplish your job/ministry
5. When a loved one comes home, always run to greet them.
6. When, is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
7. Never pretend to be someone you are not.
Of course, that is just the beginning of a good shepherd. In order to be the one God expects each of us to use all the talents he has gifted us with. Some of us are called to be teachers, some healers, some leaders and the list goes on. In order to accomplish those ministries God calls eachof us to recognize Jesus as our primary Shepherd who as Psalm 23 tells us: leads us, refreshes us, loves us unconditionally, guides us in the right paths, gives us courage and provides all we need.
With all that help how can we refuse to both a good sheepdog and a good shepherd?