Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21
The Great Shepherd of the Sheep
In of our readings and the twenty-third psalm today we meet Jesus the Shepherd.
We conclude our reading of the Letter to the Hebrews. For the past month we have been with an early community of Christians who have struggled with their Jewish brothers and sisters, and must leave behind the temple and synagogue. They suffer this loss but now build upon the faith they have received in Jesus. The letter to these Jewish Christians encourages them. Remember your history. Abraham, Joseph and Moses; Rahab and Gideon, the legion of unnamed men and women whose faith in God you know about. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Draw upon their strength and example and persevere in your faith as they did.
These dispossessed have a new creed: having turned away from dead actions they turn their faith toward God; they have the teaching of baptisms and the laying-on of hands; they believe in the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement. "God permitting, we shall advance". (6:2-3).
Today’s reading, the final verses of the Letter, is a beautiful blessing, "May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep in the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good….".
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus steps off the boat in which he and the apostles have set off to find an out-of-the-way place. Instead of solitude a crowed awaits them, and Jesus is moved with pity. They are like sheep without a shepherd. He begins to teach them at great length. Mark does not describe the people nor what Jesus teaches them. We can imagine a crowd hungry for the ‘Good News’. Our Lord will go on to feed them. The shepherd cares for is sheep.
Any of us, all of us, can find ourselves like our brothers and sisters addressed in the Letter to the Hebrews, feeling unwelcome in new situations of change, or when the tried and true of our routines and foundations are questioned. Hebrews says: draw strength from the ‘cloud of witnesses’ who have gone before us. Raised from the dead the Great Shepherd of the Sheep gives us a new and eternal covenant. In his sacrifice we see the love of the Son for the Father, a tender love like that of Abel for God. The love of the Father invites Jesus to sacrifice himself for us, making the eternal covenant, through which we are invited to embrace that love and follow Jesus.
Not only do we need the encouragement of the Hebrews but we need to know Jesus sees our ‘showing up’. How often we come before Our Lord, we await his coming to be with us and his word in our prayer. We look for him in daily life. And the Lord looks upon us with compassion. Sheep need to eat and Jesus will feed us with his Body and Blood.
Encouraged and knowing God’s love in Jesus, we advance. Tired, perhaps, but faithful, Jesus’ compassion accompanies us. This Great Shepherd of the sheep raised up from the dead is a Good Shepherd. In darkness he is by our side; where there is evil we need not fear. A banquet, anointing oil and overflowing cup, the Shepherd’s house all await us.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, Maryland.