‘Woe to the shepherds who scatter and destroy the sheep of my pasture.’
That is the first line of today’s reading from the Book of Jeremiah. It may seem of little consequence to all of you here today, but depending on your circumstance and whom you consider to be a shepherd, it may be food for thought and reflection.
During the week I had time to reflect on a situation which happened more than 10 years ago, when I met a man who told me that his wife thought I was a hypocrite. I know them both, although I haven’t seen them for years, and I remember having a disagreement with his wife about the sacrament of Holy Communion. Since my chat with her husband during the week, I have struggled to recall any aspect of the conversation of 10 years ago which could be labelled hypocritical. I would need to be reminded of what it was that she thought was hypocritical. Be that as it may, the bottom line is that she hasn’t been to church since!
Does that make me feel guilty? Yes it does, and I suspect the prospect of ever knowing the truth of the matter will never be known. I consider her a lost sheep, and the responsibility is mine. On the other hand there have been occasions when I consider that I have been in the right as on the occasion when trying to be a peacemaker in the middle of a marital war. Some years ago I was asked to visit a couple who had been at each others throat’s for years. They had been receiving counselling, were being advised by psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals from the NHS for many months, - if not years - but to no avail. I was asked to visit as they both were Catholics.
I went to their home and during our introductions they seemed charming, and I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about until I asked them to recount their individual view-point on the situation. All hell broke loose, and I couldn’t make any sense of what simultaneously they were screaming at each other. After half and hour I called a cease-fire, said I would call the following week, and asked them to write a synopsis of their individual take on the situation. As promised I called the following week, was given a history of their backgrounds, their life-story, how they met and so-on, until one started to challenge the other on a particular aspect of their relationship. Once again, all hell broke loose, and I realised that one cause of the problem was a mental health issue. I was now completely out of my depth, and said I would call the following week and come to some conclusion.
The following week, the full story, as far as I know, came into the open, and in my humble opinion they never should have married in the first place. There was little idea of what marriage entailed and as far as Catholicism was concerned they had not the slightest idea of either the sanctity of marriage or the marriage covenant. I told them of my thoughts on the matter, and advised them to separate before one of them killed the other, and left. I have never seen either of them from that day to this, neither have I heard of any murders in the area where they live. For all I know they may well be living a happily married life without a bad word between them. Obviously I have left their family problems out of the story, because it is their family and personal attitudes and family secrets should remain family matters only.
For those of you who enjoy watching farming programmes you know how difficult it can be to keep a flock healthy and safe, and you know also that life and death on a farm are part of life’s tapestry; well it’s the same in the church! One tries to be a good shepherd, but mistakes happen, and as the lord said to Jeremiah, ‘the remnant of my flock, I myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them, and will bring them back to their pastures.’ I have every confidence that the Lord will bring back to their pastures the sheep that I have lost. After all, he is the true shepherd.