May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our God and Our Creator.
What makes a good pastor? This is a question that is often on the mind of those who feel called to follow the path of Priesthood and leadership in the Church. It’s also one that many theologians and authors have attempted to answer in a plethora of books, seminars and university courses. There are so many models that a leader in the faith can follow depending on their views of leadership, their secular occupations or even their political views. However, there is one model of leadership that has stood the test of time and has the seal of Gospel approval; the model found in the Gospel reading for today.
Throughout the Gospels Christ conveys the deep message of the mysteries of God’s love in ways that would have been very real to his listeners in a practical sense and well known to them through a lifetime of hearing the messages of the Hebrew Scriptures; today is no exception with Christ invoking the image of the Shepherd as the model of gospel leadership.
If you examine a topographical map of Israel it becomes quickly apparent that the area around Jerusalem, Bethlehem and many of the places mentioned in the New Testament were very hilly. I imagine that these places were not well suited to a lot of different agricultural occupations and that this is why we often see Christ speaking of vineyards and shepherds as these would have been amongst the most common agrarian occupations in the area. Those who were listening to the message Christ was delivering today would have easily understood what He was talking about because they were things they were seeing in their daily lives.
There is also another level of understanding that the Jews listening to Christ’s message of what constitutes a good pastor would have had. From the very dawn of time the message of Shepherds being leaders used for God’s purposes was a part of Jewish history; Abel, Adam and Eve’s son found favour with God and was a tender of animals, a Shepherd. Later in the Old Testament we are introduced to what the Jews consider their greatest prophetic leader, Moses. He may have started his career as a Prince but when he met God in the burning bush what was he doing? He was tending his father in law Jethro’s sheep and God called him to shepherd the flock of Israel out of Egypt, give them God’s law and lead then through the winding path to the Promised Land. Later again, once Israel is established in the Promised Land we see the rise of the greatest political and spiritual leader the nation ever had, King David. And what was it that David was doing when the Prophet Samuel discovered him and proclaimed him the Kings anointed chosen to replace King Saul? He was a Shepherd tending his father’s sheep. So we see that Israel, and therefor Christ’s listeners, were used to the greatest of leaders being associated with the lowly task of tending to the flock.
I want to pose a question; are there Shepherds amongst us today? In the Gospel account Christ highlights that a good pastor is the one who cares for the sheep; that enters through the gate of God’s Word (the scriptures and Jesus himself). He tells us that the Shepherd will know his sheep by name, he will care for them as individuals and want to know them personally and deeply. And that through this caring attitude the sheep will recognise their shepherd.
In some parts of the world today is what is called Vocations Sunday; the time that throughout the Churches the people pray that God will touch the hearts and souls of those who are suitable to Shepherd God’s flock and that those so touched will be brave enough to respond to that call. Do you offer prayers like this? Technically every Sunday should be a day to focus on fostering the life of those called to be pastors of God’s flock but this special Sunday (sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday) is a great day for us all to take a little time to pray that God will bring more vocations to our Church, to expand the ranks of the Clergy so that the Christian community throughout the Church can be served as best suits their needs.
Those who know me and know of my own sense of calling and vocation know that I have a love for sharing the Gospel and spreading the message of Christ through word and deed. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be a member of the Order of Preachers, Independent; the Dominican Religious Order of our Church. I see in today’s reading and its focus on vocations a call and a challenge. Christ is saying to us, you know what, not everyone has heard my voice, not everyone knows that I am their Shepherd and protector and they need to know! I want all people, all of God’s Children, to be in the fold, I want them all to receive the gift of Salvation through belief in my name and my saving grace and I want YOU to help me do it.
All of us who were baptised were called to be a part of Christ’s people, we were called to be a part of the Great Army of Witnesses to Christ’s life, death and resurrection and as such we have been anointed and given the power and authority of the Great Royal Priesthood of all Believers. The responsibility to share the word and works of Christ for the salvation not only of ourselves but others rests on all of our Shoulders, not just the clergy, not just those called to serve in vowed religious life, not just on the missionaries called to foreign lands. We all have a responsibility to share what we have been given; faith in Christ.
Now I am sure that you are all getting tired of hearing this message, but because it’s my passion I think that it is one worth repeating (and I do so frequently) and Christ did too, because nearly every week I hear the call to evangelism and mission in the scriptures being read. Now, as I’ve said before, I’m not asking any of you to start standing on the street corner on market day and wave your bible preaching fire and brimstone, I’m not sure that would help anyone but there are so many little ways we can all contribute to spreading the Gospel, and if we all do a little then a lot will happen…as the song goes “From little things big things grow.
There is one final powerful message that I want to mention before I end and that is sacrifice. In I hope and pray that this week you will take the message of gospel leadership to heart. I pray that you will look into your own life and find those ways that you can be a shepherd to the people around you. Take the times to listen and get to know those you have responsibility for or who are simply “in your life”. If you listen to them, and minister to them where they are in their lives I know that we can all bring more souls to Christ and together be a great band of shepherds leading God’s flock to salvation in Christ.