Tuesday, April 21, 2015

We Are All Called to be Good Shepherds

In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd." But that’s not the end of the story. He calls us to be good shepherds as well.

In preparing for this homily I researched what it meant to be a good shepherd back in Jesus' time. And I came away with great respect for shepherds. Sheep are innocent and lovable creatures, but without a good shepherd they are totally defenseless. They are at the mercy of wild animals, storms and robbers.

The vocation of being a shepherd was something very special. They were sometimes called to risk their own lives to protect their sheep. In the book of Samuel in the Old Testament, King David, as a young shepherd boy, fought off a bear and a lion to protect the family flock. To be a good shepherd was to be a loving and courageous human being.

In my ministry as a hospital chaplain for our brothers and sisters who suffer with anxiety, depression and addiction, I often reflect on Psalm 23. In it the Psalm writer, who we believe to be King David, says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

I always focus on one line in particular: “You anoint my head with oil.” And I explain how in ancient times, and even still today, shepherds rub oil on the heads of their sheep to give them peace and comfort. This is necessary because when a large number of sheep are together, these little microscopic insects, these little gnats, are attracted by the smell of wool. They buzz around the heads and torment these poor sheep that are helpless to swat them away. The shepherd anoints the head of each sheep and rubs in this special oil. The fragrance repels and drives away the insects leaving the sheep in peace. 

I tell my hospital friends that we are like those sheep. Only instead of insects buzzing around us, we sometimes have negative thoughts that buzz inside our heads. They are the anxieties and guilt and anger, the obsessions and compulsions that we carry. They can lead us into depression or addiction, into loneliness and self-alienation.

But just like those good Mediterranean shepherds who anoint the heads of their sheep, our loving God anoints our human heads with the oil of his love and forgiveness to free us from the thoughts that torment us.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. But that’s not the end of the story. We are called to be more than helpless, passive sheep. We are called to be active good shepherds as well.

As we continue our journey through this Easter season, let us resolve to be good shepherds for all our sisters and brothers without exception - and to anoint them with the oil of our love and compassion, our forgiveness and inclusion.

4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry