The Lord is my Shepherd, Psalm 23 says, but there are human shepherds, too.
In the First Reading God thunders against the human shepherds who are failures at shepherding.
Who are these miserable shepherds, these failures, with whom God is so indignant? Well, you can tell who they are by what God is angry at in them. They are the human beings who have not cared for the sheep, and those sheep are God’s people.
Well, what did the shepherds fail to do when they failed to care for the sheep?
They didn’t help the sheep get nurture; they drove the sheep away. They led the sheep in wrong directions. They scattered the sheep, so that instead of being one flock, the sheep were divided against each other into diverse small groups.
So think about it this way.
Do you lust for someone who is not your spouse? Do you think you are caring for one of God’s children when you do? Do you smoke and overeat? What impact do your bad habits have on God’s children? Is there no one of God’s people who will grieve over you when you get sick? Do you laze around and waste your gifts by doing nothing?
Do you spend your time on foolish, frivolous things that help nobody? Do you think you are caring for God’s people when you do? Do you gossip and undermine the reputation of others? Do you sow discord in your neighborhood, in your church, in your family? Are you a divisive presence in your community? Do you think you are caring for God’s children when you are?
Surely no one of us is so benighted as to suppose that God’s thundering against miserable shepherds is meant only for priests who aren’t good enough. That thundering is a warning for each one of us.
Every person has many of God’s children in his care. The woman who empties your trash at work, the child in the row behind you who kicks your seat on the plane, the annoying non-stop talker at your dinner table, your old and highly inadequate mother, your very imperfect spouse—each of these is one of God’s children, and each of them is in your care—a little or maybe even a lot.
All these are people that we ourselves shepherd—always with our Shepherd, whose grace we need to do it well.
Let us be careful not to be miserable shepherds for him.