2nd Week of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-11;Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13; Matthew 18:12-14
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock. (Isaiah 40:11)
How do you imagine Jesus would look as the “good shepherd” of his flock? We’ve all seen paintings of a sweet, slightly effeminate Jesus cuddling a defenseless lamb. Today’s passage from Isaiah, too, depicts the shepherd as tender and solicitous. “In his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom” (Isaiah 40:11). Who wouldn’t want to be comforted by such a shepherd?
However, the prophet is also aware that the term “shepherds” refers to the kings appointed to rule God’s people. God has no patience with weak, vacillating leaders who quake before their enemies and hasten to make ill-fated military alliances instead of trusting God. His ideal shepherd “comes with power” and “rules by his strong arm”(Isaiah 40:10). Like David, the shepherd-king, he braves danger to defend his people against predators, especially the spiritual threats posed by the devil, our own fallen nature, or the darkened philosophies in the world.
Likewise, Jesus, our Shepherd, doesn’t wait anxiously for straying sheep to return. Rather, he arms himself and sets out in search of them. Sometimes his kindness feels like discipline as he cuts the lamb loose, dresses its wounds, and curbs its propensity to wander. But it is still the kindest thing he could ever do.
When we think of Jesus as our Shepherd, it is helpful to admit that we are weak sinners in need of rescuing. But this shouldn’t be an excuse for passivity. Jesus invites us to work with him in restoring a world where he is Lord. He wants us to straighten roads, fill in valleys, level mountains, and smooth rough ground so that more and more people can come to him (Isaiah 40:3-4).
So join the Shepherd’s search party. Keep your eyes on him as you seek to bring people into contact with him. Be sure to draw on his strength, his gentleness, and his patience—because you will need it. And remember: not only are you called to be patient with people but also with the Shepherd, who takes no shortcuts. He has a perfect plan, and he will accomplish it in his own time.
“Thank you, Jesus, for seeking me when I stray from the path. Teach me how to shepherd those you have entrusted to my care.”