My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me ..I give them eternal life, and they will never perish”
These words are taken from Sunday’s gospel, and they remind us that this is “Good Shepherd Sunday” and the “World Day of Prayer for Vocations” when we pray for God to raise up pastors after his own heart. God is often called “Shepherd King ” in the Old Testament (e/g/ Psalm 80:1) and in Ezekiel 34 he roundly condemns those “false” or “bad” shepherds, leaders of the people of Israel, who neglect to look after their sheep, so that they fall prey to various kinds of suffering. God promises to raise up “good” or “true” shepherds to replace these bad/false shepherds, and says these good/true shepherds will take proper care of his people. Furthermore, God will put these new shepherds under the leadership of one Shepherd, who will represent God to the people.
In John chapter 10: 1 – 30, Jesus speaks of himself as that one “True” or “Good” Shepherd sent by God to gather together the scattered sheep of Gods’ people and lead them to safe pasture. This promise is seen fulfilled in our second reading today from the Book of Revelation where John sees a vision of the “Lamb” (Jesus) as the shepherd of all those who have been faithful to God, “and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
In the gospel of Matthew, at the end of chapter 9, we see Jesus having pity on the people of Israel, because they are “confused and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd.” In the beginning of the next chapter, we see him sending out the apostles into all the towns and villages, with instructions to go “to the lost sheep of Israel,” healing their illnesses, delivering them from demonic oppression, assuring them that God’s kingdom is near at hand. Jesus continues to look for those with a shepherd’s heart, who will have the same love and care for his people as he does.
As Catholics, we are taught to regard that as the responsibility of clergy and religious, but, in fact, many people display a shepherd’s or pastor’s heart, even if they are not ordained, or in a vowed life. You see that in the way they respond with love and compassion to others, seeking to help them in their suffering and relieve their burdens. We absolutely must pray for God to raise up vocations to the priesthood, married diaconate and religious life, of course, but we must also pray for him to continue to gift others with a pastoring, shepherding heart also, who will be moved by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus’ lead to seek to wipe the tears from others’ eyes. Could that be you?