Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 22; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34
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FR. DANIEL EVBOTOKHAI
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LEADERS AND FOLLOWERS
Today our attention is drawn to shepherds. When the Bible speaks of shepherds it refers to spiritual and temporal leaders. A shepherd is a leader who tends, herds, feeds, or guards herds of sheep. One who cares for his people. Majority of the Jewish people were poor and their political leaders did not care for them. Just as we have it today in Nigeria. So Jeremiah condemned these leaders for their bad behavior in the first reading. In Biblical history, Pharaoh, Abimeleck, Jezebel and Herod, were bad shepherds who led the people astray. These kinds of leaders are still there today. Pharaoh still exists in many leaders of the Church and the State; Herod is still in many towns and villages as their traditional ruler. Oftentimes, the pains and affliction of a people is not far from the kind of leaders they have (Prov. 29:2). Many leaders don’t know how to relate with their followers. The Psalm, second reading and the Gospel of today speak of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. Let us lesson from these readings.
The Psalm of today (Psalm 23) gives us a breakdown of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. (Kindly read Psalm 23). This psalm expresses the passionate care and love of a shepherd for his sheep. It speaks about “pastures” – a spiritual sustenance provided by the Shepherd. Speaking about water, the Psalmist says the shepherd revives our souls near restful waters. Every living being needs water. God revives us near restful waters. Every Christian today needs revival; God is the source of this revival. When we are dry, He revives us. When we have laboured as we have in the gospel reading today he says come and rest a while. The psalmist went further to explain that life can present us with the valley and shadow of death. Sicknesses and diseases are shadows of death; insecurities and kidnapping are shadows of death; pot holes and fake motor parts are shadows of death. In all these the Psalmist says that with his crook and his staff the shepherds guides us. The crook and staff are the word of God by which we are guided until goodness and mercy begin to follow us so that we can dwell in his kingdom eternally.
A good leader must be caring: In the Gospel Jesus invited the disciples to come to a lonely place and rest. A true leader knows when his workers need rest. He cares about their well-being. Rest is very necessary for productivity. If we don’t rest well we cannot be effective in the things we do. Oftentimes because we don’t rest we “rest in peace” – we die prematurely.
A good leader is compassionate. Jesus demonstrated this quality of a good shepherd. He welcomed the crowed that came after them. He had compassion on them for “they were like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus is compassionate we too should be compassionate. Luke 6:36 says be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate. Christians should learn to be compassionate – It is not a virtue to express I don’t care attitude. Do not be indifferent to the plight of the poor around you. Again, the statement “they were like sheep without a shepherd” brings to mind the many children that are neglected on the streets. While some are truly homeless, some are just children of irresponsible parents and others are parents who abandon their children to pursue their goals or labour. It is true that we have to work and meet up with goals but we must not do these things at the detriment of our children or flock. We must be compassionate.
A good leader is a good teacher. The gospel says “because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach the”” Jesus is our teacher and he teaches us as a good shepherd. A good shepherd therefore must teach his sheep. Jesus taught the disciples how to master their temperament and so he called to rest and at the same time he allowed the crowed. By this act, he was teaching them ways they could master interruption of plans. Oftentimes when our plans are interrupted we are completely confused and discouraged. Good shepherds must prepare for the worst; we must prepare for eventualities and we must master our emotions over spur-of-the-moment. Beloved, a good shepherd is not driven by convenience but priority.
A good leader is a peace maker. The second reading says “Christ Jesus is the peace between us”. Christ coming, death and resurrection restored broken humanity. The paschal mystery brought about unity and peace. St Paul says all who believe in him regardless of their skin colour or their nationality have a place in the kingdom and so all are brothers and sisters in the eyes of God. Therefore, as true leaders we must work for peace and unity.
Lastly, we must be good sheep too. The gospel says that the disciples came and gave account of their work to Jesus. Often times we criticize leaders but as followers we are not any better. A good leader was once led. A bad leader was a bad follower. A good leader was a good follower. It is easy for children to criticize their parents or give excuses. But it is very important that we take into consideration the need to be responsible followers and responsible children. A true worker or disciple must always go to his master to report the level of his work and seek counsel, guidance and help.
Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)
RESPONSIBLE, UNIFIER AND COMPASSIONATE
Indispensable Attributes of a Good Leader in Light of Scripture
This week, our reflection borders on the theme of leadership. The Lord denounces irresponsible leadership and pledges to provide for his people a leadership that cares enough (1st Reading). He also shows us leadership modelled on bringing people together (2nd Reading) and leadership guided by compassion (Gospel).
In the 1st Reading (Jer 23:1-6), the leaders of Israel are described as “shepherds” (“ro‘im”) who let the flock stray and scatter, paying no attention to them (vv.1-2). This, the Lord considers as constituting “wickedness” (“ra‘ah”), for which the Lord pledges to hold the leaders accountable (“paqad”) (v.2c).
In the immediate, the Lord pledges also to gather the scattered flock back to the pasture, where they will find a suitable atmosphere to be fertile and increase (v.3). Going forward, the Lord will appoint new shepherds who will tend the flock, shepherds that the flock will not be afraid of, shepherds who will not let go missing any flock (v.4). The Lord promises to also raise a messianic leader (a Davidic king) whose reign will be characterized by prosperity, justice and right, deliverance of the missing ones and security, a king worthy of the appellation, “the Lord has vindicated us” (v.6).
From this passage emerges a clear contrast between a bad or wicked leader and a good leader. While the bad leader divides, scatters and strays the flock, the good leader brings together the flock to the pasture, delivers the missing and does not instill fear but inspires a sense of prosperity, justice, right, and security.
Anyone in any leadership position (family, ecclesiastical or political), is therefore challenged to measure the quality of his/her leadership on the basis of these basic criteria: whether among the led, s/he inspires division or brings together, whether s/he instills fear or inspires a sense of security, prosperity, justice and right, thus, providing a fertile atmosphere for growth and increase.
The 2nd Reading (Eph 2:13-18) focuses on the uniting and reconciling role of Christ, bringing together Jews and Gentiles who were once far off. The letter to the Ephesians is addressed apparently to believers in Christ of non-Jewish origins, placing a lot of emphasis on the elimination of the dividing wall and the ending of hostilities between Jews and Gentiles.
In 2:11-12 which are the immediate two verses preceding the passage of our 2nd reading, the author reminds the Gentile believers how they were first considered “the uncircumcised” by Jews who considered themselves “the circumcised”, how they were aliens to the commonwealth and covenantal promises of Israel. The verses that follow, which we have in the 2nd reading, express how in Christ, that situation has been reversed.
In v.13, we have a summary of the new order: Gentiles and Jews, once far off, have now been brought close together by the blood of Christ. Consequently, in v.14 Christ is considered the personification of peace, having broken down walls of division and ended hostilities between Jews and Gentiles. As we read: “For he is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
In vv.15-16, we are told that Christ achieved his project of making peace and creating in himself one new humanity in place of the two, through abolition of the law with its commandments and ordinances, and deriving from this, he could reconcile both groups to God. As we read: “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross….”
The law which Christ abolished in favour of making peace between Jews and Gentiles was the kind of law that made one people distinctively privileged and superior over and above another. The letter to the Ephesians insists on a new spiritual Israel that nullifies the advantages and privileges of Israel of the flesh over Gentiles. In Christ, both become sharers in “the commonwealth and covenantal promises of Israel” (cf. v.12), indeed, co-citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (cf. v.19).
Vv.17-18, which are the last two verses of our passage, summarize and restate what has been said concerning Christ’s project of making peace and bringing close peoples who were once far off.
As we reflect on the theme of leadership, the 2nd reading invites leaders, therefore, to imbibe Christ’s quality of dismantling divisive walls and laws that engender hostilities between peoples, and rather seek to build bridges that bring peoples together. Leaders must become a personification of peace and reconciliation. We are also reminded that achieving peace and reconciliation between ourselves is a necessary step towards our reconciliation with God.
In the Gospel (Mk 6:30-34), we have the continuation of the report of the first outing of Jesus’ disciples, after they had been given the authority to teach and perform works of power in the name of Jesus (cf. 6:7-11). The report had begun in 6:12-13 but was interrupted by the reminiscence of the death of John the Baptist in 6:14-29.
From the report, the apostles clearly recorded great success in both their teaching and deeds of power and Jesus acknowledges their effort, inviting them to rest a while (vv.30-31). But there was still work to do because people were still coming and going, thus, the apostles did not have any luxury of rest, not even to eat (vv.31b). But since the apostles, at the words of Jesus, needed to take a rest (v.32), the people appeared abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd, for which Jesus, taken by compassion, had to come in, to be with them and to continue teaching them (vv.33-34), and ultimately even feeding them (vv.35-44).
Clearly, here we learn the importance of taking a rest. While it is important for the leader, like the apostles, to work tirelessly for the people entrusted to his/her care, the leader must learn to acknowledge the reality of fatigue and learn to rest a while. Rest (in Hebrew, “šabbat”) is highly recommended and is theologically grounded: For God also rested (šāḇat) on the seventh day (see Gen 2:3; Exod 16:23; 20:8ff etc).
However, the leader’s need for rest must not translate into abandonment of the people to their plight. The leader can guard against this by allowing him/herself to be guided by the principle of compassion. When compassion is the “supreme law” guiding the leader’s service, then s/he has a sure compass to properly guide him/her towards the direction of the kind of rest that is pleasing in the sight of both God and men.
FR. PAUL OREDIPE
The Lord is my Shepherd
The theme of today’s celebration is summed up in our response to the Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want”
In the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we heard a warning to bad shepherds, the kings of Judah (who were shepherds in the name of God) who have failed in tending the flock. After warning those who have failed to shepherd the people, God promised to raise up a good shepherd who will rule wisely. Together with the Responsorial Psalm, this reading underlines the fact that the Lord God is the Real Shepherd.
In the Gospel, we heard of Jesus Christ, the Real Shepherd, giving a great example to the disciples who He has sent out. The Apostles return from their mission to preach and heal. They are tired and worn out. Jesus wants to be alone with them. Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Our Lord Jesus is honored through the work that we do if we do it in the name of the Lord we love.
Yet, God knows our frame and our need for rest. “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” There were too many distractions from the interior life for the disciples… and Jesus knew this… For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
There are times when we need retreat to those “lonely places” were we meet and commune with God alone. If the body is tired, and especially if it is too tired, the soul can no longer actively engage in those occupations which are proper to it, such as the contemplation of the Word of God. This is a real danger to the spiritual life. We must monitor our energy and strength.
If we have too many things to do, it is imperative for us to give up all that we can, in order to preserve or restore a proper balance between action and contemplation. Let us not forget: prudence is the mother of all the virtues. Jesus calls us to rest in Him and come to intimacy with God through Him that we might have much to give to others in compassionate ministry.
There are so many who are like sheep without a shepherd. God calls us to rest and take time away from toil … to draw close to God in a solitary place, the hermitage with Jesus.
Sometimes we work without limit and do more than we are able to do. Then some event, such as failing health (sickness), for example, reminds us that we must stop working, for what is important is to maintain moderation in all things, remaining in a happy medium between too much and not enough. It is useless to want to exceed our limits: we are inherently limited, since we are creatures.
God alone is without limit, and this is why He is always working (cf. John 5:17). So if we have to rest, it is not only to recover our strength, but also in order to remind us that God is always working, ceaselessly watching over us like a Father full of tenderness. So, when our body needs rest, it makes us think of the eternity of God, of the hereafter where there are no limits, of that endless rest in the eternal action of God.
Sometimes we become so concerned about finding peace and solitude that when we are interrupted we become irate and unresponsive. We resent intrusion and disturbance. It is right for us to make time to be alone with God in personal prayer and peace, but we are also called to be as sensitive as Our Lord to the spiritual and material needs of those who unexpectedly come to us for help.
How is your love tested? I believe it is very often the story we have just heard – it is tested by the interruption, the intrusion. Perhaps you are resting, relaxing, napping or involved in a good book or TV show. The child, the spouse, the friend comes or calls. Your first impulse – “Leave me alone.” But, like Jesus, there are those times when you look at the other person and you realize that his or her need is greater than yours. You leave your rest and you respond.
It helps to know we are being taken care of by God. We can remember that when the “Lord is our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want.” As we relax in God’s care, we can receive all we need. On the other hand, we also need to be good shepherds to others as well. We need to be sure to be good shepherds, leading patiently mostly by our example.
Jesus allowed His disciples to spend some time by Himself while He Himself continued to lead those who were like sheep without a shepherd. God gave Him the grace and energy to continue. When we seem overwhelmed even as others rest, God will provide the same for us.
The role of Shepherds is not restricted only to the clergy (pope, bishop and priests). Each of us is also a shepherd by virtue of our vocation, occupation or profession. Parents are the first shepherds of their children, for they are to love, care for, tend, watch over, protect, teach and lead their children. Teachers are shepherds in the truest sense, as they lead others to the green pastures of wisdom and knowledge. Nurses, administrators, cooks, are all shepherds.
There is hardly any profession that does not include some shepherding. And no responsible Christian is absolved from the obligation and privilege of being a stand-in for Christ, the Good shepherd, carrying on God’s work in his or her own way.
Moreover, the end purpose of all shepherding is “that all may be one”. We are to build up the family of God in our respective roles as shepherds.
The Second reading tells of how Jesus Christ, as the Good Shepherd, has made it possible for all peoples to be reconciled with one another and with God. In the same way, we are to promote the cause of peace and unity wherever we are placed as shepherds. To say or do anything that scatters, disrupts, or destroys the unity of any flock is to make oneself deserving of the word of the prophet: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.” (First Reading)
Let us pray that Jesus the Good Shepherd may assist us to be good shepherds to those around us. This week we can consider those who might be far from the Lord and how we might help them draw closer again. We can take a look at our lives and make sure we are scheduling leisure and prayer as well as work. We can consider too, how we are shepherds to those around us. We can resolve not to elicit fear and trembling, but faith and safety. Indeed, the Lord is our Shepherd, there is nothing we shall want.
Today let us ask Jesus to give us His spirit of compassion so that we can be as sensitive and responsive to the needs of people around us as He was. And let us be prepared to live lives of compassion whether it calls for a change in our plans for the summer or in our plans for the rest of our lives.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for length of days unending. Amen
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
FR. EVARISTUS OKEKE
MY MISSION AS A SHEPHERD!
“… the Lord is my Shepherd ” (Ps.23:1)
The liturgy of today strongly emphasizes the fact that God does not abandon his people, no matter what the situation may be. This was also the central message of all the first readings of last week. Last week Monday, we read that a Pharaoh that did not know Joseph ruled Egypt and started to oppress the Israelites. This made the Israelites cry to God for help. Yesterday, we read how the Lord answered their prayers and all Israelites and everything belonging to them left Egypt. Whenever God redeems his people, He teaches a lesson to the oppressors. So, we shall see in the first reading of tomorrow how the Egyptians who tried to re-capture the Israelites were all drown in the sea.
A similar picture is what we find in the first reading of today. The Lord spoke message of doom to the leaders of Israel through Prophet Jeremiah because through their selfish leadership, they have brought suffering upon God’s own people. The duty of a Shepherd is to guide and guard the flock. He provides food, protection and direction to the flock. The flock recognize the shepherd as a force to be reckoned with; so without the Shepherd, the flock will not converge since everyone will insist on his own way. It is the duty of the Shepherd to bring the flock to pasture, since food is a basic need. Without the Shepherd, the flock will be forced to scavenge for food in different directions. Little wonder the Lord accused the shepherds as follows: You have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them”.
The edge a herdsman has over his cattle is that he is a rational being while the cattle are irrational. This is not the case with the shepherds of today’s first reading. Both the sheep and the shepherd are all rational; but God has gratuitously given His Grace of leadership to some for the good of others. So, to be a bad shepherd means that one has abused or has become irresponsible with the manifold graces God has given to him or her. A shepherd becomes bad when his leadership style is no longer influenced and guided by the voice of the One who sent him.
The gospel reading shows us what it means to be good shepherds. A shepherd is anyone who has the capability of catering for others. It is in this sense that all of us are shepherds to one another in one or the other. Last Sunday, Jesus gave his apostles authority over unclean spirits as he sent them out to shepherd others. He clearly instructed them not to be distracted with concerns about their personal welfare but to rely on God’s providence. Today, the apostles returned with good reports. This means that they were able to preach and work in the name of Christ, and they were well catered for. Beloved, for every mission the Lord entrusts to you, He surely provides for your needs; but he may not guarantee your wants. So, a shepherd that has not learnt to be detached; a shepherd that is greedy, cannot escape being a bad shepherd. A bad shepherd puts himself before the Gospel; a bad shepherd is one who constitutes a bad example and/or motivates others to imitate what is wrong for material gains.
Many young people out of pressure from their family, have given in to various social vices in a bid to be like that “rich man” or that “rich woman”. If you give your child/ward the impression that wealth must be made at all cost, then you are a bad shepherd. If you pamper your children to the extent that they become nonchalant, then you are a bad shepherd. If your children’s waywardness is resulting from your negligence or from what they caught you doing in secret or in their presence, then you are a bad shepherd. If you are a “rich man” who feast sumptuously everyday but have no eyes for the many “Lazarus” around you, then you are a bad shepherd. If you are only willing to buy drinks for your friends but not interested in solving their legitimate financial difficulties, then you are a bad shepherd.
The Church’s ministers are not left out; in fact they (we) are mostly addressed today. The authority that we bear is a gift from God. We cannot afford to be irresponsible with this gift for selfish reasons. To be God’s minister means to be available to the people as God would be to them. It means to be empathic towards their plights and needs. He must be the voice for the voiceless, condemn social vices and uphold justice and peace. When the needs of the people are spiritual, the priest is to provide from the abundance God has bestowed on him. But when the people’s need are physical such as financial, the priest is to coordinate the transfer of wealth from the haves to the have-nots. He cannot be guilty of doing this too much.
There are two striking things that Jesus said to his apostles that is worth noting. When he was sending them out last Sunday, he placed their welfare on the hands of those whom they will minister to. The priests is a shepherd to the people by way of ministering to them in the name and person of Christ. Also, the people are shepherds to the priest by way of providing for his needs. Thus the fifth commandment of the Church states that we must contribute to the support of our pastors.
The second striking statement of Jesus to his apostles was asking them to come to a lonely place and rest in today’s gospel. They needed to rest not because the mission was ended but because rest will re-energize and revitalize them to serve the people more. A priest too needs to rest; he needs to create time for retreats and vacations. Rest will enable the priest to be more effective and efficient in shepherding the people God has entrusted to him.
Like the Egyptians and the leaders of Israel, we will not escape God’s wrath if we are responsible for the sufferings/lack of others. Beloved, we do not have to be perfect in order to be good shepherds; we only need to recognize that we are on mission and always rely on the grace of God, while loving others as God loves us all. God Bless You
THE KIND OF LEADER GOD WANTS FOR US