“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock …”

On the Readings for Sunday, July 22, 2018.

(Image: Jaka Škrlep @jaka_skrlep | Unsplash.com)

• Jer 23:1-6
• Psa 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
• Eph 2:13-18
• Mk 6:30-34

In an April 2013 homily given at Mass at which several priests were ordained, Pope Francis exhorted those men to pursue unity with Christ so that unity within the Church will grow:

Finally, dear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

A year later, speaking to another group of men being ordained as priests, the Holy Father said:

The Good Shepherd enters through the door, and the doors of mercy are the wounds of the Lord: if you do not enter into your ministry through the Lord’s wounds, you will not be good shepherds.

A good shepherd does several things well: he tends to his sheep, feeding and watching over them; he defends the sheep from danger; he leads the sheep to good pastures and water. Most importantly, he is willing to sacrifice himself for the sheep, putting them ahead of his own comfort and safety. We see this demonstrated in various ways by several famous shepherds in Scripture: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Amos, and the young David. And, of course, those shepherds didn’t just care for sheep but for people: families, tribes, nations, and empires.

Sheep and shepherds are mentioned many times the Old Testament, often in reference to those significant relationships between the people and their leaders, and sometimes to the relationship between the people and God. In Genesis, for instance, God is called “the Shepherd” (Gen. 49:24); on the negative side, there are several places where the Israelites are described as sheep without a shepherd or master (1 Kng. 22:17; 2 Chr. 18:16). This theme is taken up by many of the prophets, especially Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

Today’s reading from Jeremiah is a harsh condemnation of those who do not really protect and care for the people: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture … You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.” Ezekiel 34 contains equally withering words in a lengthy condemnation of corrupt and sinful leaders—both religious and political—who proved to be unworthy shepherds.

Jeremiah pointed to a coming time when God would gather “a remnant” of his flock, appointing good and holy men “who will “shepherd them.” The twelve apostles were the beginning of that flock. But they had to learn from the Good Shepherd how to withstand the temptations and challenges that come with being shepherds. After the apostles had spent time preaching and witnessing, Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” This rest was not only physical in nature, but deeply spiritual as well. Although the wilderness was often a place of testing and trial, it was a place of respite and revival when accompanied by God (cf. Ex 33:14; Heb 4:9-11).

In Christ, as the Apostle Paul told the Christians in Ephesus, lasting peace will be realized and granted between the Jews and Gentiles. This peace is not the mere absence of conflict but a real and lasting reconciliation. And that relationship is found only in the presence of God. As King David expressed so beautifully in his most famous Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. … He guides me in right path for his name’s sake.”

And so the good and divine shepherd, Jesus Christ, guides, protects, and feeds us. And gives us peace. But this is only possible because of his work of reconciliation “through the cross”. Only by dying does the shepherd fulfill his ultimate work of mercy, love, and reconciliation.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in a slightly different form in the July 8, 2018 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1190 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


    • some could be falling off a cliff and i wonder who would be there to lift them back up i wonder if that would be the surprising thing to see.

    • Amen!
      In Jeremiah and Jesus The Christ’s own words in The Word Of GOD,
      each of us needs to strive by non cajoling GOD’s Grace Led compassion.
      After, almost imperceptible each year and decades as the intellectual material needs focused happened, Ven. Fulton J. Sheen in a radio address before 1950, the Catechism of The Catholic Church paragraphs 670-680 describe a time of a so called new humanitarianism gradualism approach even in the Holy Name Of Jesus The Christ.
      Each of us knows, that GOD, never leaving us orphaned, does not ask to win friends and influence people by striving for ‘lack of conflict,’ but GOD’s Sent True Peace, not as the world gives, Peace, for true compassion, finding by Grace creative resolute dialogue. There is nothing new under the sun. Peace and heartfelt completeness in Joy Of The Lord Strengthening fiber of Being.

  1. Shepherd and Sheep Dogs
    Much has been written about the Good Shepherd, Shepherds, and Sheep Dogs.
    I doubt that a single Good Shepherd would leave the flock to search for one lost sheep. What if half of the flock, without leadership, would fall off a cliff?
    I like the idea of a Shepherd and Sheep Dogs. The Shepherd is the leader and the Sheep Dogs are the managers/soldiers.
    I attended a sheep dog demonstration in Ireland many years ago. It was very impressive. The human shepherd trained the sheep dogs to respond to specific whistle signal commands. The shepherd gave commands, like 2 tweets to move the flock to a certain location, 4 tweets to come home for dinner. The dogs lead the flock to move around to respond to these commands. It was fascinating. It appeared to be a successful system.
    Is there an application of the concept of well-trained Sheep Dogs to modern religion? Maybe. It might give a fresh perspective in the current era of foggy thinking.
    Patrick S.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock …” -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.