16th Sunday of the Year

I will raise up shepherds
to look after them and pasture them;
no fear, no terror for them any more;
not one shall be lost.
(Jeremiah 23:4)

Sometimes we can try so hard to practise our religion that we fail to enjoy the view en route. Today God reminds us that his overarching love for us will never fail. We form part of a flock that he will provide for always. Although we can’t afford to rest on our laurels, we can take a bit of a break on Christ’s.

Lord Jesus, you offer us comfort and take away our fear:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you lead us to pastures that refresh our minds and hearts:
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd who lay down your life for your flock:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
May almighty God continue to guide us along the right path. May he revive our drooping spirit, forgive us our sins and lead us to the banquet of everlasting life.

A wise man once said that anyone can be kind to a poor person who deserves it. But what marks out a great person is how they react to the undeserving poor. In other words, most of us have an instinctive response when we read a newspaper story of some innocent person who has been left homeless. But our reaction is usually different when we read of someone who has made themselves homeless through drink or drugs. We say it’s their own fault, it’s self-inflicted and they should have thought about the consequences before embarking on this course of action.
If you ever spend a holiday in the countryside and get the chance to watch a sheep-farmer at work, you’ll notice that most of his time is spent with those sheep who have got themselves into some sort of mess. The common or garden sheep does not claim so much of his time. So it’s the lamb who won’t suckle properly at the ewe, the ram that’s got his horns stuck in a boundary fence and the yearling that’s wandered off to the edge of the mountain quarry that get all the attention.
When God looks at his people he loves all the sheep of his flock. But he has a particular concern for those who have got themselves into difficulty. Today through Jeremiah he berates the shepherds that have allowed the sheep to be scattered, and Jesus looks out on the crowd and sees sheep without any shepherd at all.
If God is going to be able to pasture his flock in our day, then it must be through the Church taking seriously its shepherding role. How do we react to those in our flock who have got themselves into a mess? Do we join the tabloid chorus and denounce the unfashionable of our society, the beggars, the homeless, those addicted to drugs or alcohol, those who are refugees or asylum seekers? Or do we see it as part of our calling to rehabilitate those who have wandered onto a barren track? And if so, how do we go about it without throwing in the towel and blaming it all on the social services or the lack of government funds?
How we react to the “undeserving” is the acid test of our shepherding skills. For God there is no such thing as a black sheep of the family; only a lost sheep that needs bringing back into the fold.



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