2021 16th Sunday of the Year (B)
‘Jesus felt sorry for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd’. This is a familiar theme in the gospel, that of sheep and shepherd. A shepherd is someone who cares and looks after his sheep; and that is what the Church expects of Bishops. Last week I found out that a friend of mine has just been made a bishop, an auxiliary bishop in Liverpool. Canon Tom Neylon and I have known each other ever since we began at Ushaw College, Seminary in Durham back in 1976. He was just 18, I was 26. At the end of our training we were both ordained together. We try to meet up for our anniversary every year. So I was so happy to hear that he had been made a bishop. Will he be the kind of bishop that Christ wants? I hope so. I believe he will, because he is humble and a man of prayer, and as a bishop he will need prayer.
To be a bishop isn’t about privilege, even less about power. It is about service, and if a bishop has come to serve then he will be the kind of bishop that Christ wants. Indeed, he will be like Christ. In the gospel we see that Christ feels sorry for the people who are following him; indeed, they won’t leave him alone. Everywhere he goes they go. He needs a rest, but his heart melts when he sees them. He says, “they are like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, tired, vulnerable and a little lost. They believe in him, why else would they follow him around.
My friend, the new bishop, must earn peoples’ trust. They will listen to him if they do. He will guide them along the right path, as the psalmist said. He will also help them when they walk in ‘the valley of darkness.’ Who hasn’t walked in that proverbial ‘valley?’ It is one of the less pleasant experiences of life but most if not all of us have experienced it. And there can be many reasons why we walk through this darkness, but the experience is the same: of being lost, alone, frightened, confused, despairing even. It’s not called the ‘valley of darkness’ for no reason. And at such times we need help and support. We need someone to get us out and take us back into the light. That is a what a good shepherd will do. As the psalmist says, ‘near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit.’ And when you have gone through the valley of darkness, and are back in the light, you will be a better person. Because you will know that it was Christ, the good shepherd, who got you through it. You will have learned a most important lesson: that in the moments of greatest darkness he is beside you, to encourage you; to love you back to those ‘fresh and green pastures.’