They were like sheep without a shepherd.
They recognised leadership: They followed leadership
The readings today are actually about leadership. Jeremiah admonishes the leaders of Israel for not taking care of the flock and for their misdeeds. It is not clear what they have done, although the prophets are generally on record for criticizing the ruling class, for neglecting the poor, for exploiting the vulnerable and for abandoning the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Jeremiah’s message is not that God has abandoned the flock but that the Shepherd has abandoned God: gone their own way; sought after their own self-interest and gain. God on the other hand, through the prophet Jeremiah, commits himself once more to Israel promising the raising up of a king who will be wise, practicing honesty and integrity in the land. His name will be called the Lord-our-integrity.
This could be our day too and not just the day of Jeremiah some 3,000 years ago. In our time too we have seen in leadership (political and ecclesial) some colossal and staggering displays of bad leadership, bad calls. It is as if for us too at times that the church leaders have abandoned God. The message from the prophet – God will not abandon his own. The Lord today too will be integrity and call God’s people to be integrity. Even if this is an eschatological hope – it must be our dream, our vision, our future.
The texts highlight the humanity of the church just like other human institutions. There is always the temptation in any human power configuration to use power for domination and self-gain as much as for service and the common good. In other words, human beings can always find themselves in situations of abuse of power whenever they are in the position of having power. This can be true for all of us. It can be true for the Pope, the Bishop, the Parish Priest and the Assistant Priest. It can also be true for parish leaders, for superiors and bosses at work and for parents and for leaders among friendship groups. We are all capable of abusing power and abandoning our common human beings – our brothers and sisters. Become frauds! The Gospel shows us another way. While the Shepherds in Jeremiah’s purview abandon the flock, Jesus and his disciples are characterised by availability. The apostles we are told are tired, so many come to them that they have no time to eat. Rather than abandoning them, they reach out. The way to integrity is through compassion and pity (kindness, understanding, mercy, forgiveness). These are things that human beings can also show in abundance and make our communities shine. Availability not abandonment.
We don’t have to go hungry or tired. It can be simple, it can be a spirituality of availability – stop and notice the face of the other. Look into their eyes; put your phone away when you are with someone. Listen to the response of the other. Walk in their shoes. Everyone in their own way once this week makes a decision to be available then the Lord-our-integrity will have visited God’s people.
by Fr Brendan Reed