Sheep with no Shepherd
Mark 6:34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Jesus often uses shepherd imagery when speaking about the relationship which is found among people and their need for a leader. Of course, the people of his day certainly understood this language for there were sheep herders to be seen in every direction. You understood how sheep behaved when there was no shepherd. They would do dumb things, both singularly and collectively. The shepherd gave direction and protection. The people of Israel, the ones who should have been following God and his word were not. They were lost and Jesus recognized this. He was not angry with them because they had lost their way, but rather, he had compassion on them. That day he brought them the protection and direction that they so desperately needed.
Two things can be seen here in this story. One is from the perspective of the sheep and the other is from the perspective of the shepherd. As sheep, if we do not constantly keep our eyes on the shepherd, there is a good chance that we will wander off and get lost. Suddenly we discover that we are no longer with the herd. Where are we? We end up in a dry and barren place where there is no water and no grass on which to feed. We wither spiritually and when we finally look up, we discover that we no longer see the shepherd and we wonder if we can ever find our way home. The good shepherd, however, never stops seeking for the lost, or for those who have wandered away. When the little lost sheep begins to cry out, the shepherd hears and begins to call to the lost one. Listening closely now, the lost sheep can hear his voice and make their way back to him.
Some of us are called to be shepherds. This statement about Jesus' response is significant. The sheep were lost, and yet, Jesus was not angry or upset with them. The sheep are the ones who had wandered away from God and not obeyed his word. Yet, Jesus had compassion on them. The people had placed themselves in danger -- yet Jesus wanted to protect them. The people even showed up to listen to him and hadn't brought any food with them. They were unprepared for their simply basic human needs. Yet, Jesus had compassion on them -- and he fed them.
Some of us may be called to official roles as shepherds, and others may find themselves as the spiritual shepherd of someone in need. Jesus' response was one of compassion. I guess I have to ask myself about my responses and whether I show compassion -- and patience! Jesus did not hold against them HOW they had become lost and without a shepherd. He simply had compassion on them and that day shared with them the good news -- and fed them. Those who arrived as lost sheep, went home having been found.
Lord, may you develop within me the heart of the good shepherd, full of compassion for the flock(s) which enter my life. Amen.