I hesitated to write about the Sunday readings, even though I knew early on what I found interesting about the readings this year. It might have been a laziness brought about by the summer heat, too much time staring into the trees and not enough typing.
The readings are all about Shepherd’s . The reading from Jeremiah starts with woe to you shepherds that scatter the flocks of my pasture, and the reading concludes with “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely…” The reading starts wit the bad shepherds, and then describes the good shepherd. For the gospel reading Jesus has pity on the people “for they are a people without a shepherd.” Later Jesus will declare ” I am the good Shepherd.” Jesus makes many comparisons between Himself and a Shepherd. It was an old theme through out the mid-east. Rulers were compared to shepherds, and people prayed quietly and dearly for a good shepherds. They were rare.
Think of those ancient peoples shepherds. There were pharaohs, kings like Herod, the kings of the neighboring lands that often were at war with the chosen people. One can add to the list Pontius Pilot, and Caesar, and perhaps even the Sanhedrin. They all shepherded people.
When I think of that ancient landscape, that ancient environment, I think of the conversations people must have had about their shepherds. Presumably one of the reasons Jesus spoke in parables was to disguise his conversations about the lands shepherds. Most behaved more like butchers than shepherd, ready to put down any uprising against authority. Few would dare argue with authority, or recognize any but the shepherd in power. Many shepherds ruled by fear, and there was little discussion or opposition.
I used phrases like ancient landscape and environment for a reason, and that was to work Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment into the discussion. Shepherding people in the first and twenty first century are radically different, and much of that difference is due to modern communication technology. Think today of how many shepherds are calling “Their Flock.” Those whistling the loudest can be a half continent away, and that volume can be amplified by their influence on social media. So much static, and distortion to contend with today. So much influence peddling, and political spin. Radio, television, newspapers, social media; all telling us who “the Good Shepherd is.” That is our environment, and in all of that noise, we must be attentive to our shepherds voice. It is today so easy to confuse “the Good Shepherd” with the slickness of an advertising campaign. That is the environment of this modern technological environment, for good or bad.