Friday, November 21, 2014

The Sunday Word

Sunday's readings  give us a glimpse of the real purpose of Jesus, the one who shepherds the flock with both gentle love and stand-alone power. Ezekiel depicts Yahweh as a shepherd concerned for the flock and Matthew reveals Jesus as a divine shepherd who cares for the sheep. In both cases the "shepherd" is willing to make the hard choice of separation and judgment in order to keep the flock safe, secure and thriving.

We know the image of God as a shepherd permeates the whole Old Testament, most famously in our responsorial Psalm 23, where the gentle shepherd Lord "makes me lie down in green pastures; he 
leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul." A similar image is found in the prophet Isaiah, where the prophet proclaims that God will "feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs into his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep." Gentle care is certainly one of the soft focus images that we get of Jesus in Scripture. 

But we always have to balance that image with the shepherd image of Ezekiel, who sees the shepherd God also as a judge who righteously culls the herd to keep it pure. Referring to the "sheep" of Judah who had been scattered by the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel proclaims that God will "search for his sheep, and will seek them out .... I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness."