Give ourselves to the Lord

One of many beautiful things about being sheep is the Lord does all the work. In Hebrews chapter 13, the only action taken by the sheep is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Other than that, they follow the Lord, trust the Lord, and accept the blessings given to them by the Lord. In external states (in the valley) we might seem to be doing the work ourselves.

Internally, spiritually, we need to give ourselves over to the Lord and let Him lead and bless us.

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The Good Shepherd

By Tim Trainor
Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21
Psalms 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Mark 6:30-34

Today’s Gospel Reading from Mark is part of the buildup that prepares the reader for the first miracle Mark records later on: the multiplication of the loaves. Mark tells us that Jesus and the Twelve went to a deserted place to rest. Many wanted to hear more of his teaching, and they found a way to get to the disciples' destination ahead of them. Although the Twelve were tired and needed time alone with Jesus, He was not frustrated or angry because the crowd had interrupted their rest. Instead, Jesus felt compassion because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” 

Mark has in mind an unstated reference to the Good Shepherd of Ezekiel 34. Mark relates that Jesus satisfied their spiritual hunger by teaching them many things, thus gradually becoming the shepherd of a new Israel, the New Testament people of God. He records that Jesus could satisfy not only the spiritual but also the physical needs of the crowd. He provides food for the people just as God provided “manna” for the Israelites wandering in the desert.

The 23rd Psalm in today’s readings is one of the world's best-known and most-loved literary works. It may well be one of the best poems ever written, a fine example of the power of figurative language. We read deep things, seeing ourselves as sheep, led to verdant or green pastures and restful water by a kind shepherd. It is empowering to feel the confidence to go fearlessly into the valley of the shadow of death and to feel the love and caring of a table prepared by the Lord and a cup so full it overflows.

This Psalm is describing the path to heaven and the fierce desire the Lord has to lead us there like a Shepherd.

The first step to heaven? Let the Lord be our shepherd, accepting His teaching and leadership. The green pastures and the restful waters represent what He will teach us for this journey. He begins working inside us, setting our spiritual lives so that we desire to do what’s good and love one another, represented by the phrases, “refreshes my soul” and “guides me in the right paths for His name sake.”

But we will still face challenges. We live external lives in the real world and are subject to desires that arise in those externals. The valley of the shadow of death can kill our souls. The rod and staff represent truth and guidance from the Lord on both external and internal levels, ideas that can defend and protect us against those desires.

The rod is a symbol of the Lord’s protection and courageous strength. The staff has become a symbol of the Lord’s guidance and loving kindness.

This “guidance” staff of the Lord is pictured as a long, slender stick, often hooked at the tip, used primarily to direct the flock. Sheep are notorious wanderers, and once away from the shepherd’s watchful eye, they all-to-often get into trouble. The shepherd uses his 'guidance' staff to keep the sheep moving along but close to him, out of danger. If the sheep became trapped, the shepherd loops the staff's curved end around the sheep's neck and pulls it back to safety. Has Jesus ever had to rescue you from the muck and mire in this manner? 

If we follow the Lord closely, He will prepare a table for us, a place inside us that he can fill with love (the anointing oil) and wisdom (the overflowing cup). Transformed, we can enter heaven with love for others (goodness) and merciful love from the Lord (kindness) we can love and be loved for eternity.

One of many beautiful things is the Lord does all the work. In the text, the only action taken by the sheep is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Other than that, they follow the Lord, trust the Lord, and accept the blessings given to them by the Lord. In external states (in the valley) we might seem to be doing the work ourselves, but internally, spiritually, we need to give ourselves over to the Lord and let Him lead and bless us.

The Lord created us so He could love and help us, happy knowing that our greatest happiness comes from being conjoined with Him in heaven. And this is something He strongly wants, first here on earth and then forever in heaven. So everything He does, in every moment of every day for each one of us and every other person on the face of the planet, is centered on getting us to heaven. He wants each and every one of us in heaven more than we are capable of imagining. We need to cooperate and follow where He leads us.

The reading from the Book of Hebrews quotes “The great Shepherd of the sheep.” This is a title of our blessed Lord, given to Him by Old Testament prophets. Two examples are Isaiah 40 and Ezekiel 34. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd. He shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those which are with young,” and “I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them; (just as His beloved servant David did, foreshadowing Jesus) and be their shepherd.”

I understand the phrase “Through the blood of the eternal covenant” saying "God brought back our Lord” from the dead on account of His having shed his blood to procure this “eternal covenant." I connect it with the following verse: "Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead, our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, make you, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect in every good work to do his will." Together I see them leading to the Christian system which is the everlasting or eternal covenant, distinguishing it from the temporary covenant made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. It shows that Jesus' work is the last dispensation of grace to the world. This work (His blood) shall endure to the end of time. That sounds to me to be something very good and very permanent!

The Dictionary tells us the word 'pastor' derives from Latin for "shepherd," derived from the verb "to lead to pasture, set to grazing, or cause to eat." The term 'pastor' also relates to the role of an elder within the Bible, synonymous with the New Testament understanding of an Ordained Minister. A Priest or Bishop interestingly carries a crooked staff implying that he has major 'shepherding' duties.

The Catechism has over 20 references to 'Shepherd'’ Here are four:

Paragraph # 754: “The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ. It is also the flock of which God himself foretold that he would be the shepherd, and whose sheep (that's us), even though governed by human shepherds (Priests/Bishops), are in fact unfailingly nourished (think of the Eucharist) and led by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherds, who gave His life for His sheep.” 

#764: "This Kingdom shines out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ."To welcome Jesus' word is to welcome "the Kingdom itself." The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the 'little flock' (originally the 12 Apostles which has grown into the Church) of those whom Jesus came to gather around Him, the flock whose shepherd He is. They form Jesus' true family (NOTE: that includes you and me, proof that we are all Brothers and Sisters!). To those whom he thus gathered around him, he taught a new way of acting and a prayer of their own.”

I assume this prayer to be the Our Father.

# 2686: “Ordained ministers are also responsible for the formation in prayer of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Servants of the Good Shepherd, they are ordained to lead the People of God to the living waters of prayer: the Word of God, the liturgy, the theological life (that is the life of faith, hope, and charity), and the Today of God in concrete situations.” 

I read the phrase 'in concrete situations' as a reference to the act of giving Spiritual Direction.

#1465: “When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, also that of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, or of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, plus that of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for we sinners.”

Take time to reflect on instances in your life when the Lord led you to green pastures or rescued you from a dark valley you had wandered into. Say “Thank you Lord for shepherding me!”

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