The reality in the context of the era and the Middle East is a much less romantic figure. The shepherd, like David, was often the youngest in the family (no other occupation suits). A loner who was often unmarried. Smelly and unwashed, sheep are not the most cleanly of animals and certainly have their own aroma. Uncouth to say the least. Often not the owners of the sheep, normally hired hands or as previously mentioned the youngest in the family (No inheritance here). Often apart from community and not participants in the normal everyday workings of community. This is the figure that is used in Scripture as the embodiment of leadership and of God! Why?
Well let us look at what the shepherd does. If we picture a Middle Eastern scene where a shepherd would normally be the vision of Psalm 23 although beautiful is not exactly the true picture. Rather it is a desolate hilly country with little to commend it self in terms of grazing. Yet the shepherd will lead his flock through this barren landscape to areas where he knows that there is fodder and forage available to the flock. During the trek some sheep may play up but unless they get into extreme difficulty they are often likely to rejoin the flock as they know they will be looked after in the group. The shepherd does not use force with his sheep but rather is self effacing doing what is required for the good of the whole rather than that of the individual.
The harsh landscape of Jordan with the shepherd leading his sheep (www.pinterest.com)
Despite looking as if they are amenable sheep can be ornery and recalcitrant, especially when left to fend for themselves. So it is quite to their benefit to be known by the shepherd and follow where he leads, so they have a role to play in the flock and shepherd scene. If they were to play follow the leader they would in all probability be like army ants, who, if having lost their nest, will follow the ant in front. If that ant is lost or walking in a circle then they have no guarantee that they will survive. Indeed the ant in front may find another ant in front as it circles (the tail end of its own followers). They forever go around in circles until the majority die!! Is this what has become of the Church?
So if we are sheep who is the shepherd? and who is the under shepherd to whom authority has been given to lead the flock to the abundant pastures which are indicated in Psalm 23? These questions have implications for us today in Applecross Parish as we move towards the AGM but also within Australia with the possibilities of elections. They are not simple questions with simple answers (God, Jesus, the Christ, etc) but they impinge on our daily lives not just our faith journey. Working with people within the reality of our context is not the same as working with our faith journey although the two should be overlapping. What should we be looking for in our leaders when we look at the Shepherd model that scripture gives us.
Our leaders should be looking to lead the whole not just their own personal coterie (party, personal accounts, etc). Scripture is specific about leadership being for the whole (flock) not just for the individual. Our leaders should be those who listen to the needs of others and to the call of God our ultimate shepherd. Our leader(s) should have the vision that leads the people (flock) to those pastures where we obtain sustenance. Our leaders should be able to discern the path to take even if it means consulting and speaking to others to smooth the way. Our leaders should not resort to violence or coercion except as a very last resort. Leadership should be looking for solutions in conflict that are beneficial to both sides and all of God's creation.
As sheep we are also required to hear our leaders, be persuaded to assist not forced or conscripted against our will, be able to speak against wrong doing and be heard, should not be persuaded by popularity but by experience and results. We must also remember that we ourselves are leaders as we too love our neighbours and so will speak out for the disenfranchised to obtain justice and lead people to the love of God through the expression of God's love in our hearts and lives.
Will we listen to God in the coming months as we discern leadership in Australia and the parish or will we succumb to the populist views and propaganda? Are we able to show the true leadership which is part of who we are as Christians and discern God's will and path in our lives? No matter what we do, it is our responsibility and decisions that determines the leadership in the Church, in Society and in our lives.