What is Shepherding and How Do We Shepherd?
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.
– Saint Mother Teresa, “A Simple Path”
A growing number of voices from various strata in the Church lament the decline of shepherding and resulting harm, including hopelessness. Saint Mother Teresa sums this poverty of shepherding up with poignant, painful clarity. This post will explore what it means to shepherd, and to fail to shepherd, using Saint Augustine's 'Sermon on Pastors' from a fortnight's series of second readings in the Office of Readings.
Why go back in time to Saint Augustine? When we find ourselves on the wrong path, Saint Ignatius tells us in his Discernment of Spirits, we are to backtrack to a time we know we had consolation, and then move forward. Though we doubtless needn't go so far back, the Church holds this treasure from Saint Augustine dear enough to give in a thirteen-day series in the Liturgy of the Hours.
Am I a Shepherd?
In the same sense that we are all priests like Melchizedek, we are all shepherds, at the very least, of our own souls.
However, in the eyes of the Church, shepherds are those placed by Christ into authority over others, and this is the sense in which we will be using shepherding. Who, then, is a shepherd?
Clergy, being in the Church hierarchy, hold office in the Church and have especial responsibility as shepherds, in ascending order of hierarchy. Yet many faithful are shepherds as well. Husbands shepherd their wives, being placed by God as head of house, to “love your wife as Christ loves his Church” (Ephesians 5). Wives mutually reveal Christ to their husbands. Fathers and mothers shepherd their children. Older siblings often shepherd younger siblings. Friends are called to shepherd each other. In short, every interaction we have with others is shepherding, in one form or another, if we truly understand what Jesus calls us to when he says: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
How Deep, Modernism's Poison?
Modernism, like all heresy, prompted the Church in the 1800s to respond with clarified teaching that addressed the heresy. The Church saw modernism for what it is: a poisonous denial of God that, in many ways, binds all heresies into one heretical buffet. In this buffet, personal 'truth' is the highest truth. Of course, by imposing itself as a 'truth' above the individual, personal 'truth' refutes itself. Recognizing this, however, requires critical thinking and logic, already absent as evidenced by the denial of God. What then, logically, was the first cause, before the big bang?
Archbishop Fulton Sheen explored modernism's deepening presence and the logical decline of society, as elucidated in this article in National Catholic Register.
A great place to begin exploring the Church's identification and response to modernism is Saint Pope Pius X Encyclical on the Doctrines of the Modernists.
Two Questions to Contemplate
First, given the surge of modernism and its resultant anarchy in today's society, how deeply has the poison of modernism infiltrated our shepherds and weakened some, castrated others, and rotted yet others? I encourage you to keep this question in mind reading Saint Augustine's Sermon on Pastors below.
Second, we have come to think of the many and various challenges in relationships, strife in relationship, including with ourselves and with God, as issues of mental health, referring people to mental health professionals. What if if we are neglecting our shepherding call by doing so? What if mental health is really soul health?
I encourage you to hold these questions at the fore as you read Saint Augustine below.
Christ is our only hope and we are all, including shepherds, sheep of his flock. In any strife, we are to turn to Him, and He gives His authority to bind and loose on earth as in heaven to His Church alone.
Sermon on Pastors by Saint Augustine
We are Christians as well as leaders
You have often learned that all our hope is in Christ and that he is our true glory and our salvation. You are members of the flock of the Good Shepherd, who watches over Israel and nourishes his people. Yet there are shepherds who want to have the title of shepherd without wanting to fulfill a pastor’s duties; let us then recall what God says to his shepherds through the prophet. You must listen attentively; I must listen with fear and trembling.
The word of the Lord came to me and said: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel and speak to the shepherds of Israel. We just heard this reading a moment ago, my brothers, and I have decided to speak to you on this passage. The Lord will help me to speak the truth if I do not speak on my own authority. For if I speak on my own authority, I will be a shepherd nourishing myself and not the sheep. However, if my words are the Lord’s, then he is nourishing you no matter who speaks. Thus says the Lord God: Shepherds of Israel, who have been nourishing only themselves! Should not the shepherds nourish the sheep? In other words, true shepherds take care of their sheep, not themselves. This is the principal reason why God condemns those shepherds: they took care of themselves rather than their sheep. Who are they who nourish themselves? They are the shepherds the Apostle described when he said: They all seek what is theirs and not what is Christ’s.
I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the Lord has given me, a role that demands a rigorous accountability, a role based on the Lord’s greatness rather than on my own merit. The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage.
Many persons come to God as Christians but not as leaders. Perhaps they travel by an easier road and are less hindered since they bear a lighter burden. In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well.
The shepherds who feed themselves
Let us consider the unflattering words of God which Scripture addresses to shepherds who feed themselves and not the sheep. You consume their milk and cover yourselves with their wool; you kill the fatlings, but my sheep you do not pasture. You have failed to strengthen what was weak, to heal what was sick, and to bind up what was injured. You did not call back what went astray, nor seek out what was lost. What was strong you have destroyed, and my sheep have been scattered because there is no shepherd.
This is spoken to the shepherds who feed themselves and not the sheep; it speaks of their concern and their neglect. What is their concern? You consume their milk and cover yourselves with their wool. And so the Apostle asks: Who plants a vineyard and does not eat from its fruit? Who pastures a flock and does not drink from the milk of the flock? Thus we learn that the milk of the flock is whatever temporal support and sustenance God’s people give to those who are placed over them. It is of this that the Apostle was speaking in the passage just quoted.
Although he chose to support himself by the labour of his own hands and not to ask for milk from the sheep, the Apostle did say that he had the right to receive the milk, for the Lord had established that they who preach the Gospel should live from the Gospel. Paul also says that others of his fellow apostles made use of this right, a right granted them, and not unlawfully usurped. But Paul went further by not taking what was rightfully his. He forgave the debt, whereas the others did not demand what was not due them. Therefore Paul went further. Perhaps his action was foreshadowed by the Good Samaritan who, when he brought the sick man to the inn, said: If you spend any more, I will repay you on my way back.
What more can I say concerning those shepherds who do not need the milk of the flock? They are more merciful; or rather, they carry out a more abundant ministry of mercy. They are able to do so, and they do it. Let them receive praise, but do not condemn the others. The Apostle himself did not seek what was given. However, he wanted the sheep to be fruitful, not sterile and unable to give milk.
The example of St Paul
Once upon a time, when Paul was in great poverty and shut up in prison for proclaiming the truth, the brethren sent him what was necessary to relieve his poverty and meet his needs. He wrote to thank them: It was kind of you to share in my troubles. I have learnt to manage on whatever I have. I know how to live in plenty and how to live in want. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships.
He rejoices, not so much at having his wants relieved as at the generosity of his friends. Thus he shows them what is truly good about their action; for he does not want there to be shepherds among them who feed themselves rather than their sheep.
What, then, was he asking for? It is not that I wish for your gifts, but that I demand that you should be fruitful. Not, in other words, that I should be filled, but that you should be not empty but abundant.
If you cannot, like Paul, earn your living by the work of your own hands, then by all means relieve your wants by accepting the milk that your sheep provide; but never neglect the weaknesses and needs of your flock. Do not seek to do well out of it, so that you appear to be proclaiming the Gospel only because you need the money. Give the light of the Word to the people who need illumination. For you are like lamps, as Scripture says: Let your loins be girded and your lamps lit, and No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.
Now then, if a lamp is lit for you in your house, you add oil to make sure it doesn’t go out. On the other hand, if a lamp full of oil fails to shine then it does not deserve to be put on the lamp-stand: it may as well be smashed at once. So the means of living must be offered only as an act of charity and accepted only out of necessity. The Gospel must not be like something that is bought and sold, the price being the preachers’ livelihood. If you do sell it like that then you are cheapening a thing of great value. Accept the relief of your wants from the people, but receive the reward of your preaching from the Lord; for it is not right for the people to reward their pastors for serving them in the gospel of love. Let the pastors look for reward from the same source that the people look to for salvation.
Why are these pastors being rebuked? What is the charge against them? It is that they take the milk and clothe themselves with the wool but neglect the sheep from which these things come. They care not about Christ’s interests, but their own.
No-one should seek what is his own, but what is Christ's
We have talked about what it means for a shepherd to “drink the milk of his flock.” Now, then, what does it mean when he “clothes himself in its wool”?
To give milk is to give sustenance; to give wool is to give honour. These are the two things that pastors demand when they want to feed themselves rather than their sheep: the fulfilment of their bodily wants and the pleasure that comes from honour and praise.
Clothing is a good image of honour because clothing covers nakedness. Now every man is weak – and whoever is placed over you is a man just like you. He has a body; he is mortal. He eats, he goes to sleep, he wakes up. He has been born and he will die. If you consider him in himself, he is nothing but a man; but by giving him honour you give him, as it were, clothing to cover up his human nakedness.
See what kind of clothing Paul received from the good people of God: You welcomed me as an angel of God. I swear that you would even have gone so far as to pluck out your eyes and give them to me. But with all the honour that was given to him, did he spare the feelings of those who had gone astray, so that he could avoid being contradicted or being praised less than before? He did not. If he had withheld correction from those who needed it, he would have been one of those pastors who feed themselves and not their sheep. He would have been saying to himself, “What has that to do with me? Let them do as they like: my food is safe, my honour is safe – I have as much milk and wool as I want, so let everyone wander wherever he likes.” But then, if you think like that, are all your goods really safe if everyone goes wherever he wants? If you think like that, I refuse to make you a leader and you will be like every one of your own people: If one part of the body is hurt, all parts are hurt with it.
So when the Apostle Paul is recalling how the Galatians behaved towards him, he does it because he does not want to seem forgetful of the honour they gave him. He remembers that they received him as if he had been an angel of God, that if it had been possible they would have torn out their own eyes to give to him. But despite all this, he has come to the sick, the rotting sheep to lance its abscesses and cut away its rotting flesh. He is driven to say Is it telling the truth that has made me your enemy?
Paul received the sheep’s milk, as we heard before, and he received their wool to clothe him, but he did not neglect the care of his flock. He did not seek his own interests but those of Jesus Christ.
Be a model for the faithful
When the Lord had explained what these bad shepherds seek, he also said what they neglect. The defects of the sheep are widespread. There are a very few healthy, fat sheep – that is, those that are made strong by feeding on the truth, by God’s gift making good use of the pastures – but they are not safe from the bad shepherds. Those shepherds not only do not look after the sick, the weak, the wandering and the lost, but they do as much harm as they can to the strong and sleek among the flock. Those sheep survive – by the mercy of God they survive – but the bad shepherds do what they can to kill them.
You may ask how they do this. By living badly, by setting a bad example. There was a reason why the servants of God, eminent among shepherds, were told In everything you do make yourself an example to them of working for good, and Be a model for the faithful. Often even a strong sheep, seeing its leader living a wicked life, will turn from contemplation of the laws of the Lord to the behaviour of the man and say to itself, “if my leader lives thus, who am I that I should do things differently?” In that way the shepherd is killing the strong sheep: and if the strong, then what of the rest? Even if their strength did not come from his care – even if they were strong and healthy before he saw them – still he is killing them by his evil life.
I say this to your loving kindness, I say it again: even if the sheep are living strong in the word of the Lord, even if they follow what their Lord has told them: Do what they say; but what they do, do not do yourselves, whoever lives wickedly in the sight of the people is a murderer in so far as he is able. Let him not flatter himself that his victim is not dead. The victim is not dead but the man is still a murderer. When a man lusts after a woman then even if she remains chaste he is still an adulterer. The Lord’s judgement is clear and true: If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. He has not come to her in his bedroom but in the interior bedroom of his heart he is already in the throes of passion with her.
And so it is that anyone who lives wickedly in the sight of those over whom he has authority is killing them, even the strong ones, as far as he is able. Whoever imitates him dies and whoever does not imitate him lives, but as far as he himself is concerned he is killing them all. As the Lord says, You are killing the fattest sheep but you do not feed my flock.
Prepare your soul for temptation
You have already been told about the wicked things shepherds desire. Let us now consider what they neglect. You have failed to strengthen what was weak, to heal what was sick, and to bind up what was injured (that is, what was broken). You did not call back the straying sheep, nor seek out the lost. What was strong you have destroyed. Yes, you have cut it down and killed it. The sheep is weak, that is to say, its heart is weak, and so, incautious and unprepared, it may give in to temptations.
The negligent shepherd fails to say to the believer: My son, come to the service of God. Stand fast in fear and in righteousness, and prepare your soul for temptation. A shepherd who does say this strengthens the one who is weak and makes him strong. Such a believer will then not hope for the prosperity of this world. For if he has been taught to hope for worldly gain, he will be corrupted by prosperity. When adversity comes, he will be wounded or perhaps destroyed.
The builder who builds in such manner is not building the believer on a rock but upon sand. But the rock was Christ. Christians must imitate Christ’s sufferings, not set their hearts on pleasures. He who is weak will be strengthened when told: “Yes, expect the temptations of this world, but the Lord will deliver you from them all if your heart has not abandoned him. For it was to strengthen your heart that he came to suffer and die, came to be spat upon and crowned with thorns, came to be accused of shameful things, yes, came to be fastened to the wood of the cross. All these things he did for you, and you did nothing. He did them not for himself, but for you.”
But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offense not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? God himself made no such promise to this world. On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want the Christian to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because he is a Christian, he is destined to suffer more in this world.
For the Apostle says: All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. But you, shepherd, seek what is yours and not what is Christ’s, you disregard what the Apostle says: All who want to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution. You say instead: “If you live a holy life in Christ, all good things will be yours in abundance. If you do not have children, you will embrace and nourish all men, and none of them shall die.” Is this the way you build up the believer? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing him. You have built him on sand. The rains will come, the river will overflow and rush in, the winds will blow, and the elements will dash against that house of yours. It will fall, and its ruin will be great.
Lift him up from the sand and put him on the rock. Let him be in Christ, if you wish him to be a Christian. Let him turn his thoughts to sufferings, however unworthy they may be in comparison to Christ’s. Let him centre his attention on Christ, who was without sin, and yet made restitution for what he had not done. Let him consider Scripture, which says to him: He chastises every son whom he acknowledges. Let him prepare to be chastised, or else not seek to be acknowledged as a son.
Offer the bandage of consolation
Scripture says: God chastises every son whom he acknowledges. But the bad shepherd says: “Perhaps I will be exempt.” If he is exempt from the suffering of his chastisements, then he is not numbered among God’s sons. You will say: “Does God indeed punish every son?” Yes, every one, just as he chastised his only Son. His only Son, born of the substance of the Father, equal to the Father in the form of God, the Word through whom all things were made, he could not be chastised. For this reason he was clothed with flesh so that he might know chastisement. God punishes his only Son who is without sin; does he then leave unpunished an adopted son who is with sin? The Apostle says that we have been called to adoption. We have been adopted as sons, that we might be co-heirs with the only Son, and also that we might be his inheritance: Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance. Christ gave us the example by his own sufferings.
But clearly one who is weak must neither be deceived with false hope nor broken by fear. Otherwise he may fail when temptations come. Say to him: Prepare your soul for temptation. Perhaps he is starting to falter, to tremble with fear, perhaps he is unwilling to approach. You have another passage of Scripture for him: God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. Make that promise while preaching about the sufferings to come, and you will strengthen the man who is weak. When someone is held back because of excessive fear, promise him God’s mercy. It is not that temptations will be lacking, but that God will not permit anyone to be tempted beyond what he can bear. In this manner you will be binding up the broken one.
When they hear of the trials that are coming, some men arm themselves more and, so to speak, are eager to drain the cup. The ordinary medicine of the faithful seems to them but a small thing; for their part they seek the glorious death of the martyrs. Others hear of the temptations to come, and when they do arrive, as arrive they must, they become broken and lame. Yet it is right that such things befall the Christian, and no one esteems them except the one who desires to be a true Christian.
Offer the bandage of consolation, bind up what has been broken. Say this: “Do not be afraid. God in whom you have believed does not abandon you in temptations. God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. It is not I who say this, but the Apostle, and he says further: Are you willing to accept his trial, the trial of Christ who speaks in me? When you hear this you are hearing it from Christ himself, you are hearing it from the shepherd who gives pasture to Israel. For of him it was said: You will give us tears to drink in measure. The Apostle says: He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength. This is also what the prophet intends by adding the words: in measure. God rebukes but also encourages, he brings fear and he brings consolation, he strikes and he heals. Do not reject him.”
On weak Christians
You have failed to strengthen the weak, says the Lord. He is speaking to wicked shepherds, false shepherds, shepherds who seek their own concerns and not those of Christ. They enjoy the bounty of milk and wool, but they take no care at all of the sheep, and they make no effort to heal those who are ill. I think there is a difference between one who is weak (that is, not strong) and one who is ill, although we often say that the weak are also suffering from illness.
My brothers, when I try to make that distinction, perhaps I could do it better and with greater precision, or perhaps someone with more experience and insight could do so. But when it comes to the words of Scripture, I say what I think so that in the meantime you will not be deprived of all profit. In the case of the weak sheep, it is to be feared that the temptation, when it comes, may break him. The sick person, however, is already ill by reason of some illicit desire or other, and this is keeping him from entering God’s path and submitting to Christ’s yoke.
There are men who want to live a good life and have already decided to do so, but are not capable of bearing sufferings even though they are ready to do good. Now it is a part of the Christian’s strength not only to do good works but also to endure evil. Weak men are those who appear to be zealous in doing good works but are unwilling or unable to endure the sufferings that threaten. Lovers of the world, however, who are kept from good works by some evil desire, lie sick and listless, and it is this sickness that deprives them of any strength to accomplish good works.
The paralytic was like that. When his bearers could not bring him in to the Lord, they opened the roof and lowered him down to the feet of Christ. Perhaps you wish to do this in spirit: to open the roof and to lower a paralytic soul down to the Lord. All its limbs are lifeless, it is empty of every good work, burdened with its sins, and weak from the illness brought on by its evil desires. Since all its limbs are helpless, and the paralysis is interior, you cannot come to the physician. But perhaps the physician is himself concealed within; for the true understanding of Scripture is hidden. Reveal therefore what is hidden, and thus you will open the roof and lower the paralytic to the feet of Christ.
As for those who fail to do this and those who are negligent, you have heard what was said to them: You have failed to heal the sick; you have failed to bind up what was broken. Of this we have already spoken. Man was broken by terrible temptations. But there is at hand a consolation that will bind what was broken: God is faithful. He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Welcome or unwelcome, insist upon the message.
The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have not sought. In one way or another, we go on living between the hands of robbers and the teeth of raging wolves, and in light of these present dangers we ask your prayers. The sheep moreover are insolent. The shepherd seeks out the straying sheep, but because they have wandered away and are lost they say that they are not ours. “Why do you want us? Why do you seek us?” they ask, as if their straying and being lost where not the very reason for our wanting them and seeking them out. “If I am straying,” he says, “if I am lost, why do you want me?” You are straying, that is why I wish to recall you. You have been lost, I wish to find you. “But I wish to stray,” he says; “I wish to be lost.”
So you wish to stray and be lost? How much better than I do not also wish this. Certainly, I dare say, I am unwelcome. But I listen to the Apostle who says, Preach the word; insist upon it, welcome and unwelcome. Welcome to whom? Unwelcome to whom? By all means welcome to those who desire it; unwelcome to those who do not. However unwelcome, I dare to say: “You wish to stray, you wish to be lost; but I do not want this.” For the one whom I fear does not wish this. And should I wish it, consider his words of reproach: The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have not sought. Shall I fear you rather than him? Remember, we must all present ourselves before the judgement seat of Christ.
I shall recall the straying; I shall seek the lost. Whether they wish it or not, I shall do it. And should the brambles of the forests tear at me when I seek them, I shall force myself through all straits; I shall pull down all hedges. So far as the God whom I fear grants me the strength, I shall search everywhere. I shall recall the straying; I shall seek after those on the verge of being lost. If you do not want me to suffer, do not stray, do not become lost. It is not enough that I lament your straying and loss. No, I fear that in neglecting you, I shall also kill what is strong. Consider the passage that follows: And what was strong you have destroyed. Should I neglect the straying and lost, the strong one will also take delight in straying and being lost.
The Church, like a vine, grows and spreads everywhere
They are straying across the mountains and the high hills, they have been scattered over all the face of the earth. What does this mean, scattered over all the face of the earth? That they attach themselves to earthly things, the things that glitter on the face of the earth: they love and desire them. They do not want to die and be hidden away in Christ. Over all the face of the earth not only because they love earthly things but because across all the earth there are sheep astray. They are everywhere, but one thing, pride, is the mother of them all, just as Christians who are spread over all the world have one mother, the Church.
So it is not to be wondered at that pride gives birth to dissension while love generates unity. The Church is the mother of all, and everywhere the shepherd in her seeks those who are astray, strengthens those who are weak, cares for the sick and puts the broken together again. Many of them are not even known to one another, but she knows them all because she is merged with them all.
She is like a vine that has grown and sprouted everywhere. Those in love with earthly things are like sterile shoots pruned away by the grower’s knife because of their sterility, cut away so that the vine should not have to be cut down. And those sterile shoots, once they are pruned away, lie on the ground and stay there. But the vine grows over all, and it knows those shoots that remain part of it, and it knows the cut-off shoots that lie next to it.
But from where they lie she calls them back, for as St Paul says of the broken branches, God has the power to graft them back again. Whether you speak of sheep straying away from the flock or branches cut off from the vine, God is equally able to call back the lost sheep and to graft back the lost branches: the Lord, the true vine-dresser. They have been scattered over all the face of the earth and no-one misses them, no-one calls them back – no-one among the bad shepherds. No-one misses them – that is, no man does.
Well then, shepherds, hear the words of the Lord. As I live, says the Lord God… See how he starts. It is like an oath sworn by God, calling his very life to witness. As I live, says the Lord God. The shepherds are dead but the sheep are safe. As I live, says the Lord God. What shepherds are dead? Those who have sought their own interests rather than Christ’s. So what of the shepherds who seek Christ’s interests and not their own? Of course there will be such shepherds, of course they will be found: there is no lack of them and there never will be.
Do what they say, not what they do
Well then, shepherds, hear the word of the Lord! What must you shepherds hear? Thus says the Lord God: behold, I am above the shepherds and I will call them to account for the sheep in their hands.
Listen, sheep of God, listen and learn: God will call the bad shepherds to account for his sheep and for their deaths. As he says elsewhere in Ezekiel: Son of man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name. If I say to a wicked man, “Wicked wretch, you are to die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin but you yourself will have saved your life.
You see, brethren? Do you see how dangerous it is to keep quiet? If you remain silent, you die; and rightly. You die for your impiety and sin – it is your negligence that kills you. He who has said, As I live, says the Lord might have found a living shepherd – but since the shepherd was negligent, not warning those he had been given authority over, those whose sentry he was, he will die justly and the sentry will be justly condemned. But if – the Lord continues – you say “you are to die” to one I have threatened with the sword, and he does not avoid the sword and it comes and kills him, he will die in his sin but you will have set your soul free. That is why we must not keep silent – and you, even if we did keep silent, must listen to the words of the true Shepherd in holy Scripture.
Since I raised the question, let us see if he takes the sheep from the dead shepherds and gives them to good ones. I certainly see him taking the sheep from the bad shepherds: I am above the shepherds, and I shall take my flock back from them and I shall not allow them to feed my flock. In this way the shepherds will stop feeding themselves. For when I say to them, “Feed my sheep,” they feed themselves and not my sheep. I shall not allow them to feed my flock.
How does he stop them from looking after his sheep? Do whatever they say, but do not do what they do. It is as if he were saying, “Their words are my words but their actions are their own.” When you avoid what the bad shepherds do, they are not in charge of you any more: when you follow what they say, it is my words you are following and it is I who am tending you.
I shall feed my sheep on good pasture
I shall gather them together from foreign nations and bring them back to their own land. I shall pasture them on the mountains of Israel. As the mountains of Israel, he has set up the authors of the holy Scriptures. Feed on these and you will feed in safety. Whatever you hear from them will do you good; whatever you hear from elsewhere, spit it out. Listen to the voice of your shepherd lest you lose your way and wander into the mist. Gather together on the mountains of holy Scripture. There you will find the delight of your heart: nothing poisonous, nothing strange – the richest of pastures. Simply come in good health, and feed in good health on the mountains of Israel.
In the ravines and in every inhabited place in the land. From these mountains of Scripture flow the streams of the gospel preaching, whose sound has gone forth into all the earth so that every inhabited place of the earth has become a rich and fertile pasture for the sheep.
I shall feed them in good pasturage; the high mountains of Israel will be their grazing ground. There will they rest. That is, where they will say, “It is good here,” where they will say, “It is true, it is clear, we are not deceived.” They will take their rest in the glory of God as in their own shelters. They will sleep and take their rest in the midst of delight.
They will browse in rich pastures on the mountains of Israel. I have already spoken of the mountains of Israel, the good mountains, the mountains to which we lift up our eyes so that help will come to us from them. But remember, our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. So to prevent us putting our hope in the mountains, as soon as he had said I shall pasture them on the mountains of Israel he added at once I shall feed my sheep. Yes, lift your eyes up to the mountains from which your help will come; but wait for him to say I shall feed. For your help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
And finally he says I shall feed them with judgement. Note that it is he alone who feeds them with judgement. For what man can judge another man? Wherever you look, you see rash judgements. Someone we have despaired of suddenly turns round and becomes the best of people. Someone of whom we have had high expectations suddenly fails and sinks into uselessness. There is no certainty in our foreboding, there is no certainty in our love.
Take any man. What is he today? He hardly knows himself. He has some slight idea, perhaps, of what he is today, but as for tomorrow – nothing. So the Lord feeds us all with judgement, distributing what is appropriate to each of us: this to one person, that to others, to each what they ought to have, one thing to one and another to another. For he knows what he is doing. He feeds us with judgement, us whom he redeemed after he had himself been judged. So he feeds us all with judgement.
All good shepherds are in the one Shepherd
We have seen that Christ feeds you with judgement, and he distinguishes the sheep that are his from those that are not. The sheep that are mine, he says, hear my voice and follow me.
Here I see all good shepherds wrapped up in the one Shepherd. It is not that there are no good shepherds but that they are all part of the one. To be many means to be divided, and so here the Lord speaks of one shepherd because it is unity that he is commending. The Lord does not avoid talking about “shepherds” in the plural because he cannot find anyone to take care of his sheep. He did find shepherds, since he found Peter – and by the very choice of Peter he commended unity. The Apostles were many and to only one of them did he say Feed my sheep. May it never happen that we truly lack good shepherds! May it never happen to us! May God’s loving kindness never fail to provide them!
Now if there are good sheep then it follows that there are good shepherds, since a good sheep will naturally make a good shepherd. But all good shepherds are in the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding. In the same way the bridegroom’s friends do not speak with their own voices, but when they hear the bridegroom’s voice they are filled with joy. Thus it is that Christ is feeding the sheep when the shepherds are feeding them. He says “I feed” because it is with his voice that they are speaking and with his love that they are loving. For even as he gave his sheep into Peter’s charge, like one man passing responsibility to another, he was really seeking to make Peter one with him. He handed over his sheep so that he himself might be the head and Peter, as it were, the body – that is, the Church – so that like a bridegroom and bride they might be two in one flesh.
Before he handed his sheep over to Peter he made sure that he would not be entrusting them to someone quite separate: Peter, do you love me? And he responded, I love you. Again: do you love me? And he responded, I love you. And a third time: do you love me? And he responded, I love you. He makes certain of love and gives a firm foundation to unity. He, the one shepherd, feeds the sheep in these many shepherds, and they, the many, feed them in him, the one.
Scripture is silent about shepherds and yet not silent. The shepherds boast, but whoever boasts, let him boast in the Lord. This is what it means for Christ to feed the sheep; this is what it means to feed the sheep for Christ, to feed them in Christ and not to feed oneself apart from Christ. When he said I will feed my sheep Christ did not mean “I have no-one else to give them to,” as if the Prophet had foretold a bad time when there would be too few shepherds. Even when Peter and the Apostles were still walking this earth, Christ, in whom alone all are one, said I have other sheep that are not of this flock, and these I have to lead as well so that there will be only one flock, and one shepherd.
So let them all be in the one shepherd and speak with the one shepherd’s voice, for the sheep to hear and follow their shepherd – not just any shepherd, but the one. Let all shepherds speak with one voice in him and not with separate voices: I beseech you, my brethren: say the same thing, all of you, and let there be no divisions among you. May that voice, cleansed of all division and purged of all error, be the voice that the sheep hear as they follow the shepherd who says The sheep that are mine hear my voice and follow me.