theunfamiliarname

Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 16B

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2009 at 7:17 am

Today’s readings – including that most famous of texts, Psalm 23 – are to do with sheep and shepherds.  Very comfortable words, Beatrix Potter-esque, pastoral.  Or not.  For there’s more than a subtle whiff of the political around that metaphor.  Most of us don’t get to be the shepherd in this scenario!  Those of us described as sheep – then or now – are unlikely to appreciate the allegory…

Jeremiah the Prophet reminds us of the fact that God is constantly calling new shepherds.  The ones we have so often let us down, but God still seems to trust the model.  Shepherds are called and recalled, constantly taken from the flock itself, to lead God’s people.  We need only look at the symbolism of a bishop’s crozier (crook) to be reminded of our continuity with this ancient agrarian image.

And yet shepherds always disappoint.  The profundity and power of the 23rd Psalm is the realisation that we trust only and ultimately in one unselfish, unswayable shepherd, God and God alone.

We enter into the model, mindful that our mortal rulers and guides, temporal and spiritual, are as we are: human, frail, fickle.  Bearing this in mind, we are called to conform ourselves and our leadership to something different from that which the prophets criticised.

God in Christ Jesus proves to be so different to all those who, in the words of the Old Testament, were supposed to “shepherd my people Israel”: kings and leaders of all kinds.  God is contrasted with every illegitimate oppressive regime and impersonal institution – the Church at times included – before and since.

Our Shepherd models what it is to both serve and lead.  Traditionally, Middle Eastern shepherds lead from the front.  They don’t ask sheep or goats to go anywhere they themselves haven’t already been.  That’s the metaphor.  Ours is to be not a powerful, top-down leadership. Ours is to be a nurturing, empowering, compassionate shepherding that is ultimately a reflection of God, the Shepherd of Psalm 23.

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