“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD… Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David.” (Jer 23:1;5)
Once Moses and his trusted aide Joshua had died, the next generation of Israelites lost sight of the Lord God and began worshipping the gods of Canaan (Jg 2:10-11). First, God admonished them by not assisting their armies; then God showed his divine mercy by sending them “judges” – Israelites of great and humble faith who shepherded the people with counsel and victory. However, after being led by some unjust judges and hard pressed by their enemies, the Israelites approached the prophet Samuel and demanded a king be set over them (1 Sam 8:5). This insistence caused grief to both Samuel and the Lord God (1 Sam 8:18), for they saw this as a sign of Israel’s waning faith. Still, God instructed Samuel to anoint the Benjaminite Saul as king. Saul eventually displeased the Lord, and Samuel prophesied that Saul’s kingship would be replaced by another – “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:13-14). This was of course King David.
God promised David (through the prophet Nathan) that he would establish David’s house forever (2 Sam 7:16) thus promising the coming of the Messiah (Mt 22:41-46). This “anointed one” is Jesus, that “righteous shoot” who comes not only to shepherd Israel but all mankind.
Jesus often warned His disciples against false shepherds – those individuals whose primary concern is their own selfish will (Jn 10:12) or who are even “ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15)! The first are those who teach not the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church. The second are those who feed off of the Church to satiate their own physical or material appetites. Thankfully, the Lord sends us many able shepherds while Jesus also promised to be with his Church until the end of the age by leaving His disciples obedience-to-His-teachings as their lasting legacy (Mt 28:20).
To assist us in our reflection on the excerpt (above) from today’s First Reading we adorn our bulletin cover for this 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time with a painting by the great Danish master: Rembrandt van Rijn, entitled David Playing the Harp to Saul (1629). This Northern Baroque work is quite representative of Rembrandt’s impressive use of contrasting light and darkness to portray psychological tension within the biblical narrative. We see David humbly bowed, immersed in his harp playing; painted with no facial features so as to symbolize his insignificance or lack of threat to his king. Saul however sits proudly on his couch, holding his shepherd’s staff and wearing his chain of authority while looking suspiciously at David as a rebel and usurper. Saul has forgotten that any authority he holds has come from God and that his service to God is of greater consequence than the authority – which is in fact just one type of faithful service.
To see how the Lord shepherd’s his people we offer the Canticle of Hannah, Samuel’s mother: “[God] raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap [he] lifts up the poor, to seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage” (1 Sam 2:8). Such ones are not only poor in substance, but also poor in spirit (Mt 5:3).