In the wake of what Jesus (God in human flesh) revealed to us about the Father’s love for humankind, we cannot be surprised that he portrayed the Father as having human feelings like ours. The Prophet Jeremiah (23:1-6) reminds us that the Father cannot hide his disappointment over the poor and inadequate performance of those he had placed as shepherds over his sheep.
Similarly, in the Gospel of Mark (6:30-34), Jesus, like Father like Son, displays all his pity, tenderness and concern for those to whom he had been sent by the Father, because they were showing unmistakable signs of being uncared for and disoriented, like abandoned sheep.
Thus, Jesus proves to be the righteous shoot that God the Father promised to give as a descendant to King David as the ideal shepherd/king, named “The Lord our justice.”
We cannot afford to overlook this title because, for the Bible, the name reveals the very nature of a person. For the Bible, one is “just” only to the extent that he can deliver according to his nature and the purpose for which he was chosen. Hence, such a title has nothing to do with Jesus’ fairness as judge or about just retribution for people’s good or bad conduct.
It is all about Jesus executing the Father’s will fully, completely to the Father’s total satisfaction and glory. In other words, Jesus is the Shepherd who, alone among all other shepherds, teaches, guides, nourishes, heals, protects and saves exactly as the Father himself would.
But today, some 2000 years since the risen, glorious, victorious, all-powerful Lord Jesus has taken his seat at the right hand of the Father in heaven, the question that we must answer is this: Is God pleased or concerned or dissatisfied with the shepherds assigned to care for his flock (Church)? Even a quick assessment of the condition of the sheep would confirm that the Father feels pleased with some, dissatisfied with others, and deeply concerned overall.
We should all thank him for inspiring many shepherds (priests) to heed the warning he had voiced through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel (3:18-19). Says the Lord: If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life.
Jesus can be seen operative in the work of these priests. If they notice that their sheep are clueless and disoriented, they teach them many things, feeding them God’s Word even on thorny, ethical subjects such as the sacredness of marriage as intended by our Creator God; openness to life in marital intimacy; respect for life from its natural conception to its natural end; children being a gift from the Lord and not one’s right to produce or one’s property; the right of all children to their mother and father; the dignity of each person however young, however small, however old, however insignificant, for being created in God’s image—and so on.
Alas, I think that the Lord is dissatisfied with those priests who are worn out and have lost their fighting spirit; who are content with the status quo; who opt for being distributors of Sacraments without taking the time to evangelize their sheep and challenge them. The Lord is moved with pity for those sheep that are fed trite, bland exhortations about loving God and neighbor and about being “good Catholics” yet without being challenged to let the Holy Spirit ignite in their hearts the burning fire of bearing witness to Christ and to the Gospel.
Anyone who has even very limited knowledge of the Lord’s mind is aware that Jesus and the Father are deeply concerned both with the shepherds and with the sheep. Both belong to the Lord Jesus. He died a horrific death on a cross and rose to newness of glorious, endless life for all of them. And for both groups he sees the urgent and pressing need for rest in a deserted place and to be actively engaged in loving and joyous service of each other.
Now, where should the shepherds and the sheep find rest in the Lord? They should do it through prayer and contemplation in the silence and recollection of their inner room, in the most quiet place of the home or before the Blessed Sacrament. They should pray for each other. The sheep should pray so that their shepherds get the courage needed to preach the whole truth, to feed their sheep the full Word of God, including the parts that make people uncomfortable.
The sheep should pray so that their shepherds have all the necessary inner energy from the Holy Spirit to present from the pulpit the Gospel that Christ has entrusted to the teaching authority of the Church with clarity, boldness, untiring resolve and total dedication, and to display in the Sacraments of healing and reconciliation all the compassion that the sheep should expect from Christ himself. The sheep should also appreciate, respect and extol the ministerial priesthood to such an extent that adolescents and young men in the family may entertain seriously the thought of the priestly vocation.
The shepherds should pray for the sheep so that the sheep may be docile to the teachings of Christ in their totality avoiding the “smorgasbord” and “buffet” attitude of adhering only to palatable and/or fashionable aspects of Catholicism. The shepherds should pray that the sheep make their big and small choices in life based on pertinent information which they ought to get only from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or other reliable sources of Catholic teachings from the Magisterium, rather than from secular sources which all seem to have an insidious agendum to enact.
Simply put, the thought that should be firmly in place in the back of everyone’s mind is that the bearing of good fruit of charity and joyous service, be it the ministerial service by priests or the good deeds of the sheep, must be inspired, sustained, strengthened, and guided by Christ’s Spirit at all times.
No one should ever forget this blunt, sweeping statement from Jesus: Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
If the shepherds and the sheep desire to act in such a way as to be pleasing to the Father and to allay his concern, they have no choice but to set aside scheduled times and also unplanned ones to rest in the Lord Jesus, so that they can be reenergized and recharged by his loving grace for those deeds upon which their eternal destiny depends.