FAITH IN FOCUS: SHEPHERDS AND SHEEP
Jeremiah usually gets called the “Prophet of Doom”. It’s rather an unfair title since all he was doing was pointing out that if people continued to ignore what God expected of them then they would suffer dire consequences. And suffer they did; they were exiled to Iraq and lived for years in misery not far from Baghdad.
It would be easy to read what Jeremiah has to say about negligent shepherds and simply apply it today to those in positions of leadership. The political leaders were involved in shady deals and the religious leaders gave the people a religion that they wanted to hear. Maybe we can make a stick out of this to beat modern-day politicians and clergy. But that would be to miss the point.
What Jeremiah actually prophesises is hope not doom. For he tells the people that although they may suffer bad leadership, although they are heading for a fall, they are still God’s people and they will never be abandoned. God will raise up a shepherd who will be called “The Lord-our-Integrity” or “The Justice of Yahweh”. And this shepherd will gather those who have remained faithful to the Lord and lead them back to where the pasture is good. It’s a promise not a threat.
In today’s society someone’s always got to take the blame. We blame politicians for the state of our living conditions and we blame clergy when things in the Church don’t go as we think they should. Maybe we ought sometimes to acknowledge our own part in the mess that we are quick to criticise. How active are we in local politics, or do we simply enjoy moaning about what others are trying to do? How involved are we in the Monday to Saturday concerns of our parish, or do we simply turn up on Sundays and expect everything to be fine? Are we using our “shepherds” as “scapegoats”, and then complaining that we’re being fleeced?
Jeremiah’s message was one of hope. God is greater than any failure we can concoct. God will never abandon us completely. But the fact that we have shepherds does not mean that we should behave like sheep.