Is 40:1-11; Ps 96:1-3,10-13; Mt 18:12-14
The Lord our God comes with power, with the power of a shepherd, a good shepherd. It is not easy for us to relate to this image from the scripture and from another time and culture. A good shepherd is one who does not abandon the sheep; indeed, he stays to guard and defend, and he even goes out in careful search for the lost among his sheep. It is the claim of the LORD himself that he would be the good shepherd of his sheep. The good shepherd-bishop would not abandon the call even though it meant daily conflict within and with those not even within the flock. The LORD promised to rule the world with justice and to govern his people with constancy. We who know his sovereign authority in our lives and in our church cry out to the earth, the nations, the plains, the sea, and all that fills it to rejoice and sing. Indeed, we gladly announce his salvation day after day; we tell his glory; we recall his wondrous deeds. In response to the prophet Isaiah, we speak tenderly to Jerusalem and give comfort to all God’s people. We know and love the will of our heavenly Father who does not want one of the little ones to be lost; so we like the Good Shepherd go out to rescue and save those who are far from home.
What gave our ancestors comfort? What gives us comfort today? When we hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “All flesh is grass, and all their glory like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it. So then, the people is the grass. Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the word of our God stands forever,” do we not find great comfort in this word of the Lord? Is it not a joy to know that the people is the grass? Not only are the people a passing reality as fragile as grass or flowers, the word of the Lord is not fragile. Indeed, the word of the LORD stands forever, a light to the nations and the glory of his people Israel. We find it a great comfort to know that all who oppress us are like grass. We, also find it a genuine comfort to know that we too will pass like the flowers of the field. All of our trials and struggles, both internal and in the public forum will come to an end. We will pass on to the strong arms of our God who like a shepherd feeds his flock in this world and with heavenly food. The same Good Shepherd also gathers his lambs and carries them in his bosom; while he leads the ewes with great tenderness. Such is the comfort that keeps all who share the heart of our Divine Shepherd in ministry today. Without this comfort our shepherds could offer no comfort to those who are lost and hurting. The one who comforts us enables is to give that same comfort to one another.
If the Lord Jesus is asking an opinion of anyone who loves his sheep, he will get the answer that he wants. However, if the Lord Jesus is in dialogue with anyone who is a hired hand, who does not know the sheep, the answer will be much different. What gives us comfort is to know that our heavenly Father is the true shepherd who has come and continues to come into our lives and into the life of our community to feed us and guide us and find us when we are lost. Indeed, it is with a shepherd’s heart that the Lord Jesus himself lays down his life for his sheep and feeds them with his body and blood. Can there be any greater comfort?