Saturday, February 04, 2017

His Heart Was Moved with Pity

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind. Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:16-17

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Psalm 123:1-3

When Jesus walked the paths and towns and lakesides of ancient Palestine, society was largely agricultural. Most people spent the majority of their waking hours trying to produce enough food to avoid starvation. They grew various crops, tended vineyards and cared for flocks. When Jesus’ lessons concerned the characteristics of his followers, he chose sheep to illustrate what his followers should be like.[i]

In our modern era, we have lost touch with so much of the basic knowledge of the world that the “ancients” had known.  Short of seeing a lamb or sheep at a petting zoo or farm, my hypothesis is that few readers of Your Daily Tripod know as much about animal husbandry as the people of Palestine.  For example, did you know:

Sheep are a prey species, and their only defense is to flee. Sheep display an intensely gregarious social instinct that allows them to bond closely to other sheep and preferentially to related flock members. Flock mentality movements protect individuals from predators.[ii]

Sheep have a strong instinct to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good "decision." This instinct is "hard-wired" into sheep. It's not something they "think" about.[iii]

Sheep also have traits, characteristics, behaviors, and feelings that make them an excellent illustration of the collective Christian mind. By considering them in detail, we can gain some incredible insights into the feelings, behaviors, and actions of the Lord’s true followers both individually and collectively.[iv]

Among the other traits of sheep discussed in the Psychology of Sheep website are these two which also shed a light on why they are an apt image for Christ to use in preaching are:

Sheep are very conservative; they like the familiar and resist change.  This characteristic has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s good to hold fast our faith and it’s good to hold onto that which is good, especially each other. At the same time change is required, including growth. If we keep the shepherd in sight and listen to his word, we are content in that kind of change. Studying is useless if we do not learn anything or we don’t gain a better understanding.

Sheep welcome the shepherd, especially during the birthing process.
Sheep lose their fear of humans and especially the shepherd when the female sheep give birth. Sometimes sheep act as though they don’t need a shepherd, but pain changes their mind. With the females, it is the pain of giving birth. Pain has the same effect on us. It reminds us of the transient nature of this world, the transient nature of money and health. Pain brings us back to the shepherd where we belong.

In Cursillo, the Shepherd is an appropriate image to illustrate the Christian ideal in action (not to take away from the Prodigal son and his family).  The characteristics of the shepherd are traits we are called upon to emulate.

The emotion of passion illustrated in today’s Gospel is pity.  The Good Shepherd looked out upon his flock and saw their needs and took action to meet those needs with his teaching first and then by feeding them second. We are asked to be aware of the needs we confront ins the present moment and do something to alleviate that pain.

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