Best of Daily Reflections: A Shepherd for the Sheep
Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
After the disciples of Jesus returned from their mission trip, in which they proclaimed and demonstrated the kingdom of God, Jesus perceived that they needed time for rest and reflection. So “they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone” (6:32). But people recognized Jesus, and they ran ahead to meet him when he got off the boat. We might expect that Jesus was a bit miffed, given his hopes for a retreat with his disciples. Instead, when he saw the crowd waiting for him, “he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (6:34).
The Greek verb translated here as “had compassion” means, literally, “his guts were moved” (splagchnizomai). Whereas we tend to locate emotions in the heart, first-century Greek speakers put them in the bowels. Mark’s choice of this verb emphasizes the deep emotion of Jesus. We would say that his heart was profoundly moved when he saw the crowd “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” This phrase echoes a passage in Ezekiel, where the Lord lamented the failure of the leaders of Israel to care for his “sheep”: “So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd” (Ezek. 34:5). God’s solution to Israel’s leaderless situation was to become their good shepherd: “I myself will search and find my sheep. . . . I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel . . . .” (Ezek. 34:12-13).
Thus when Jesus feeds the crowd, this not only reflects his compassion for them, but it also reveals that he is fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel. Jesus has come as the good shepherd. Jesus will play the role of the Lord himself. He will do this because he is more than simply a man. He is, indeed, God in the flesh. He is the Lord, the good shepherd.
Even as Jesus once had compassion for the crowds, so he has compassion for you and me today. He sees our need for a faithful, wise leader, and offers himself as our good shepherd. He will feed us, not with literal bread, but with the bread of life, with his written Word. And we who follow Jesus have the opportunity to become co-shepherds as we extend arms of love to others, as we feed the hungry and proclaim God’s truth to the world.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you ever think that Jesus has compassion on you? Why or why not? How does the fact that Jesus is your good shepherd impact your life?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, first of all I thank you today for your compassion. Thank you for looking upon me with a tender and passionate heart. What an amazing thought that you care for me so deeply.
Moreover, I thank you, Lord, for feeding me with your truth. I need the guidance that comes from your Word. How grateful I am for the Scripture you have given!
Finally, today I praise you for being, not just a human Messiah, but also the Word of God made flesh. You are the Lord, the promised good shepherd. All praise be to you, Lord Jesus! Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.