This is the third week we’ve been hearing about the ministry of a prophet. However, in today’s readings, the message is more dire. It is a warning to those prophets who profit themselves at the expense of others (note the play on words). Another way of saying this is:
Woe to those shepherds who pasture themselves on their sheep.
In other words, those who are put in charge of the Lord’s house should always strive to be models of the Good Shepherd himself.
I’m sure that you can all think of examples of those who have not been good leaders: athletes, politicians, priests, coaches, teachers, and even parents. They used their positions to use and abuse those under their care. Unfortunately, by their actions they have tainted a whole group. I remember in the midst of the sexual abuse scandal being spit upon because I wore a roman collar. Some people would say very hurtful things. Even some members of my family made jokes about keeping “the priest” away from the children.
Although some shepherds are not good and some prophets fail to prophesy God’s word, most coaches, teachers, priests, and parents are trying their best to do the right thing. Instead of grouping all persons in a particular category under the same umbrella, we should discern how trustworthy they are. Too often, we ignore our “gut reaction” when meeting a person. While first impressions can be misleading at times, if a feeling of unease persists, there may be something to it that needs further testing or investigation.
In the end, however, it is God who is the ultimate judge of people’s behavior. If God has put someone in a position of authority and he or she repeated misuses that position, eventually God will take action. It may not be as quick as we would like or in the manner we would choose, but we know that when God acts, it will be decisive.
As the old saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.” Where there is a lack of leadership, someone will step in. That’s what happened in today’s Gospel. Jesus saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd and his heart was moved to pity. So he began to teach them. When we encounter a lack of leadership in our schools, workplaces, civic or religious organizations what is our reaction? Do we simply have pity or do we attempt to rectify the situation? Do we sit back and let the status quo remain? Or do we try to effect change and work for justice?
As we pray this week, let our prayer be for those who shepherd us in the various areas of our lives. But also we should pray for ourselves that we may discern the true and holy shepherds among us—those who will lead us closer to Christ and God’s kingdom. Together may both groups—shepherds and sheep—work toward the building up of the Church and society.