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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - How to Be a Good Leader

Robert Barron - How to Be a Good Leader

Robert Barron - How to Be a Good Leader
TOPICS: Leadership

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading and our Gospel center around this familiar biblical theme of sheep and shepherding. So it's an ancient symbol for leadership, the shepherd and the sheep. Our first reading is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, one of the most complex, one of the richest books in the Old Testament, is taken now from the twenty-third chapter. And Jeremiah is using the metaphor of sheep and shepherding to talk about the remarkably bad leadership that Israel had in the years leading up to the Babylonian exile in 587 BC. That's when Jeremiah is operative. And he's complaining about the very bad leadership, culminating in King Zedekiah, who made deals with the Egyptians, and he really prompted the exile of Israel.

So the prophet is in high dudgeon against these lousy leaders. So listen now, here's the passage from the twenty-third chapter of Jeremiah. "Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them". This is pretty harsh stuff. He's not holding back, is he? I mean, he knows Israel's had some pretty bad leadership. The people who is meant to be a beacon to the world are now scattered, and demoralized, and exiled. And so woe to these very bad shepherds. Okay? So what does the Lord intend to do about this? And here's the real key to this passage. Listen. "I myself", this is the Lord speaking, "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow".

So enough with these fallen, earthly kings. God himself will take matters into his own hands. He will shepherd his people. Interesting parallel text, now you can find it in the book of the prophet Ezekiel. This is from Ezekiel 34. Listen: "For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I will lead them out from among the peoples and gather them from the foreign lands". Same idea. Bad shepherds leading to a scattered, demoralized Israel. And so God himself will come and act as a shepherd. Okay? But now things get a little interesting. Because we're going to find out exactly how God is going to do this.

Now listen; it gets a little strange and anomalous. "Behold", I'm now back in Jeremiah 23, "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land". Okay, so which is it? We've got bad shepherds. God says, "I will take care of things. I will shepherd my people". But then he says, "I'm going to raise up a shoot to David". That means, I'm going to raise up an earthly king from the line of David. Well, is it David or is it God? Yes is the answer. See, what becomes clear, everybody, in the Scriptures, and you find a lot of examples of this; Ezekiel too, somehow these two moves are going to come together. Precisely through a righteous shoot to David, through an earthly king, God will actively shepherd his people.

Now, we Christians understand this perfectly, don't we? Who is Jesus? He's the one prophesied by both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Son of David? Uh-huh. A righteous shoot to David, an earthly king? Yes, we say Jesus Christ is truly human. And, mysteriously, is he also, at the same time, the God of Israel shepherding his people? Yes. He's truly human and he's truly divine. And these two natures come together in the unity of one person. Jesus is the one predicted by these ancient prophets. The one who will come and shepherd his people. Okay? It's in light of all of this, and that's why the Church gives us Jeremiah 23 to read, it's in light of all of this that we can understand the power of our Gospel.

Though Jesus and the Apostles had gone to a deserted place, though they were trying at least for a time to get away from the press of the crowds, listen: "People hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place ahead of them". And so when Jesus gets out of the boat, he'd crossed the sea, he gets out of the boat and he sees this vast crowd that had followed him. And then listen: "His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd". And then we hear, he therefore taught them. "Oh," you say, "it's a nice sort of bucolic metaphor". No, no, no, no. Read this in light of that whole Old Testament anticipation. "I myself will come and shepherd my people," says the God of Israel. How? By raising up a righteous shoot to David. There he is. There he is.

As Jesus looks out at the crowd like sheep without a shepherd, his heart is moved with pity because he's the God of Israel, now acting to shepherd and guide his people. Now, let's take another step. You say, "Okay, that's an interesting description of Jesus long ago". Oh, but Jesus is not just a figure from long ago. Rather, we say this shepherd, both God and man, this shepherd is alive and active in his Church. He continues, therefore, to act as the one who shepherds his people. Here I find Pope Francis really interesting and helpful. He reflects a lot on this theme of shepherding. He says a good shepherd, and Christ is now the good shepherd, par excellence, a good shepherd is ahead of his people, with his people, and behind his people.

And I think you can see, with a little reflection, that Jesus does fulfill this kind of tripartite task of the shepherd. How's he out in front of his people? Well, a good shepherd is going to lead his people somewhere. If he's just standing with them, he's just one of them, just being with them, well, he's not leading them anywhere. He's not providing a vision or a direction. All the great shepherds, now, whether that's religious, or political, or cultural, all the great leaders were visionaries. Think Lincoln, or Churchill, or FDR, I mean, any of the great political leaders had a vision for the country. They articulated it, held it out. In a sense, they were all ahead of their people.

Well, so we say that Jesus, the good shepherd, is out ahead of us. Sure he is. He's showing us the way. He's articulating the vision. "I am the way, the truth, and the life". He's the truth and the life that we seek. Think now in the preaching and the teaching of the Church, and so on. This vision's held out to us. That's how Christ shepherds his people. Okay? But the good shepherd is not just ahead. Because if he's just ahead, the people will come perhaps to admire him, or perhaps to savor his sayings, but he'll become a distant figure and they won't follow. Therefore, the good shepherd is also among his people. I've told this story before, but it's really apposite here. Many years ago, when I was at Mundelein Seminary, Cardinal George came and he spoke to the students. And he told them how much he admired them for the clarity of their teaching, especially on matters sexual.

But then he said, "If all you do is drop that teaching on people, and do nothing to help them bear the weight of it, you're not a pastor". "Pastor," shepherd, right? And so the good shepherd is also among his people. Not just out ahead articulating the vision, as essential as that is, but also with his people, helping them to bear the burden he's given them. And see, here's the wonderful thing, everybody: Where and how is this aspect of Christ shepherding on display? Precisely in the great ministries of his Church. Precisely in those wonderful priests, and sisters, and pastoral ministers, and so on, who walk with the people, encouraging them, urging them on, helping them bear the burden, explaining things to them. That's Christ the good shepherd now among his people, with his people.

Well then thirdly, Pope Francis says, the good shepherd is also sometimes behind his people. Now, what does that mean? Well, he says, sometimes some of the people fall behind. Some of the sheep become wounded and sick, unable to stay with the flock. If the shepherd is just out ahead, he'll never see them. If he's just among those who are moving forward, he won't sense them. At times, the good shepherd's got to go behind the flock and find those who are lagging behind, those who are sick, those who are wounded, those who are broken. Beautiful. Christ, the good shepherd, also acts this way precisely in and through his Church.

Think of all the ways that the Church binds up the wounds of those who are sick. Think of the Church now reaching out through the sacrament of Reconciliation, through pastoral counseling, through deep care for those who've been wounded in the spiritual struggle. And look, I mean, we've all been there, right? You know, sometimes we feel, yeah, we're heroically moving forward. We're following the good shepherd. But there are times, let's face it, we're all sinners, that we get broken, and discouraged, and we tend to fall behind. Thank God the good shepherd, not just ahead, not just with, but sometimes behind the flock to care for us when we're wounded.

"I myself will shepherd my people". How? By raising up someone from the house of David. Christ. But how is Christ alive and present? Precisely through his Church. And so these ancient texts, everybody, think Jeremiah writing so long ago, is speaking to directly to us. And so this text of the Gospel, where Jesus is described as having the heart of a shepherd, well, that's describing the life of the Church even now. Ahead of his people, with his people, behind his people, the good shepherd continues to guide us. And God bless you.
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