Although there is sometimes something funny and exciting about watching PMs question time, I must say I hate seeing or hearing political leaders in a parliamentary session just slinging mud at each other, instead of telling the truth and trying to solve the problems of the day. It is even worse when we remember that the general public voted them in and here is this dis-edifying spectacle of a slanging match in front of the very people they are called to govern. Such behaviour calls into question the quality of their leadership and shows up the abuse of their authority – especially when the party and its interests come before the very people they are called to serve.
In the first reading today from the prophet Jeremiah we heard about God’s disappointment with the shepherd-leaders of his flock. In Jeremiah’s time in Israel and in the nations surrounding Israel the kings were often called shepherds because they had a pastoral duty to look after their people in God’s place. Unfortunately only a small number of the kings in Israel were men of integrity, and many of the kings, contrary to what was expected of them, did nothing to help the faith of their people. They were the bad shepherds of today’s reading.
As bad shepherds they were adulterous, like the greatest of them, David, murderers, idolators – unjust, destructive and exploitative towards their subjects, whose lives often through negligence, they put at risk and abused. For doing this, Jeremiah warns them of their punishment for such behavior: Jerusalem would be destroyed and they would be sent into Exile to Babylon.
And so, at the end of the first reading today we hear God promising that he, himself, would raise up a wise and honest king to rule them in justice and truth.
That prophetic promise was, of course, realized in Jesus the great shepherd-king, whom the Father sent to be the wise and honest Leader of his people.
In last week’s Gospel, we saw Jesus sending the apostles out in pairs to evangelize. This week in the Gospel, we see Jesus fulfilling his role as shepherd of the people. Jesus sees that the apostles are tired after walking all over the region of Galilee, teaching, healing and curing diseases. He is so concerned for their peace and wellbeing that he recommends that they take a rest. So first, he gathers them together after the mission for some feedback from their experiences — to take some time out to reflect and to pray about what they had seen and done. But shortly, as the Gospel tells us, they were mobbed by such a great multitude that they hadn’t even the time to eat.
Today’s Gospel shows us that Christ’s love and care has no boundaries. His shepherding is not limited to the Twelve. It reaches out to the crowd; He cares for and loves them, too. When he got out of the boat and encounters their need, he shows enormous pity and love for them. As the Evangelist Mark says: ‘they were like a sheep without a shepherd’.
Jesus in our Gospel today teaches us, too, how to balance our lives amidst the many concerns we may have. As a shepherd, he couldn’t turn them away. He might have wanted to have a quiet time with his apostles, but because of the immediate need of the people, he put aside his own needs for them. So the compassion that Jesus felt for his people was much more than just a mere human feeling or emotion. It impels him to do everything possible to relieve their suffering by totally committing himself to them and to their needs. Saint Paul describes it perfectly when we do the same thing: he says: the love of Christ spurs us on: Caritas Christi urget nos. That’s what love does; it goes out to the other. Its is how Jesus today gives us the example of what it means to be a good Jesus is showing us an example of what it means to be a good Shepherd-leader.
So the heart of a true shepherd and a good leader is also what God expects of all those called to lead by example: civil and ecclesiastical leaders, above all of the Bishops the successors of the apostles and the priests but also of all of us, the people of God. We think especially of teachers and parents, those who hold ministry in the Church – parish councilors, Eucharistic ministers, readers and catechists etc. etc. ; all of us who are in any way are called to help build up the Body of Christ, the Church.
Especially important in the family of the Church at this time in history, parental leadership is vitally important for the up-building of the next generation with the values of Christ. None of us gets a DIY book teaching us how to be parents and leaders; we learn by example and experience, but especially from the love, example and experience of our parents.
While leadership is a privilege it is also first and foremost a service; about serving not being served; about a faith doing justice, not remaining an isolated individual, about teaching the truth by example and sometimes about speaking truth to those in power realising that sometimes, as the scriptures teach it is the youngest and smallest, the littlest, that bears the truth instead of the powerful the mighty and, like PMs question time, those who shout the loudest.