Today, we have a very interesting Gospel story, and who we identify with in the Gospel reading can tell us a lot about where we are in our journey of faith. Do we identify with the disciples, who have arrived back from their first mission, tired and wanting to get away from the crowds, to find a place to rest? Or, do we identify with the crowds, who relentlessly pursue Jesus and his disciples wherever they go, hungry for the message of his Good News and the proclamation of the kingdom of God, hungry for someone who will lead them and guide them? Or, do we identify with Jesus, who feels compassion for the crowds, who sees them as sheep without a shepherd?
The temptation for us to identify with the crowds, those who yearn for a shepherd, may be great. It is nice to be led by someone, isn't it? Many in our society feel comfortable and secure in not taking full responsibility for their lives and for their actions, and some leaders in our society very much like leading people who are like this. But I think Jesus wants to change those who behave like sheep into shepherds, who in turn will go out and mission to the world & turn others into shepherds as well. This is what Jesus does for those who follow him.
In seminary, at one point there was a seminarian who was really struggling with some of the hands-on pastoral experiences he was having. When our field supervisor tried to challenge him and encourage him to take more chances and to immerse himself more fully in our seminary's formation process, this student said that he felt like a lost sheep who was not receiving the help and support he needed from the seminary and our professors. However, the supervisor responded by stating that he did not see the student so much as a lost sheep, as he saw him as a wounded shepherd, a shepherd who needed to heal, to grow, to challenge himself in order to not only lead himself, but to be able to lead the people of God as well.
In the beginning of this Gospel story, the disciples had just come back from a mission that Jesus had entrusted to them. They had done things that they never thought they could do: healing the sick, changing hearts, announcing the Good News to the world, & being full of love and compassion for others. May we see how Jesus is challenging us today. May we see the ways in which Jesus is asking us to serve.