The contrast between the Shepherds spoken about in the first reading of today and Jesus who is portrayed as Good Shepherd in the Gospel text of today could not have been clearer.
The kings, who were meant to be shepherds, have failed miserably in their responsibility. They were meant to watch over the flock, protect them from danger, keep them united and care for those who were hurt in any way. However, instead they have destroyed and scattered the flock. Where there was meant to be justice and economic stability for all, there is instead injustice and economic oppression of the poor by the rich. The incapable and incompetent kings are responsible for this state of affairs.
Despite this, however, the Lord has not given up on the flock. They remain his people and his flock and he will not abandon them. He will gather them together and bring the stray sheep back to the fold. This he will do through a descendant of David. The primary characteristic of the reign of this king shepherd will be righteousness, and this is why he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness”. This righteousness will manifest itself in the manner in which the king will deal with God and his people. Though some think that because of the reference to righteousness King Zedekiah was meant, it is clear that even he could not fulfill the promises made by God in the manner that was expected of him. It was only in Jesus that these expectations were fulfilled in the most perfect way.
While this is shown in numerous instances in the Gospels, it is brought out strongly in the Gospel text of today. Even as the disciples narrate the success of the mission on which they were sent, Jesus’ response is not one of excitement and elation. Rather it is concern for the disciples and their physical needs, much like a good shepherd would care for his sheep. However, neither the disciples nor Jesus could get the food and rest they require, because the crowd continued to follow them and would not let them be. Yet, despite the fact that Jesus and the disciples did not have time to be by themselves and even to eat, his concern for the crowd is so great that he regards them as sheep without a shepherd and assuming the role of the Good Shepherd, he begins to teach them many things and so satisfies their need for spiritual nourishment. A few verses later we are told of how Jesus also satisfies their physical hunger with more than they can eat.
Whereas the earlier kings who were meant to be shepherds did not attend to the flock because they were concerned about themselves, Jesus cares not for himself but for his sheep. Whereas the flock under the earlier Shepherds was frightened and dismayed because of this lack of care, the flock of Jesus is confident because they know they have a Shepherd whose primary concern is their welfare.
This concern the second reading of today tells us was shown by Jesus in an emphatic way on the cross. While through his death on the cross he showed on the one hand that he was the obedient shepherd, he also succeeded on the other hand to reconcile all peoples everywhere. Division between people has been transformed into unity, dividing walls have been broken and war and strife have given way to peace and reconciliation. This is what God promised and this is what God was able to accomplish in Jesus.
The injustice, oppression and selfishness that God accused the kings of in the first reading of today continue even in our day and time. Two thousand years after Jesus the Good and True Shepherd showed us the way; we have not yet learnt what selflessness and reconciliation mean. So many even today prefer to live selfish and self-centered lives with no concern for the needs of others. So many today continue to have as their prime purpose in life the accumulation of wealth for themselves and often even through dishonest and corrupt means. So many today have made “having more” as their life’s aim rather than “being more”.
The readings of today and especially the attitude of Jesus is a call and challenge to anyone who is willing to listen and learn what it means to live a selfless life. It is a call to place the needs of others above my own. It is a call to realize that giving is more beneficial than receiving, that giving others their rightful due is the only way to live and that a life which places the concerns and needs of others above one’s own, is a life truly well lived.