Read Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-18, Mark 6:30-34

“You have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:2)

Why do children need their parents? Why does a nation need a President? Why do sheep need shepherds? Simply put, without leaders, people are bound to perish. In our Gospel passage of Last Sunday, Jesus, recognizing this fact, sent out his disciples two by two with very strict instructions. This is because it is one thing for a people to have shepherds but a different thing to have good shepherds.

In truth, it is better for a people to be without a shepherd than to have wolves disguising as shepherds. Sure, the difference between the wolves and the good shepherds is that the wolves are only after their own personal interests and would readily devour the sheep (feed on the sheep instead of feeding the sheep). On the other hand, the good shepherds are selfless (do not take any money, bag, two tunics, etc.) and compassionate (thinking always of how to help the sheep).

In as much as today’s readings, just like those of last Sunday are particularly addressed to us (pastors of souls), we discover that the lessons they contain can apply to anyone in a position of leadership be it small or large. The question is, what type of shepherd am I? A good shepherd like Jesus or a wolf who comes only to steal, to kill and destroy? A leader who sacrifices for the good of the people or one who beats up the people and tries to restrict freedom of speech through banning social media and censorship of broadcasting houses?

Hardly would anyone admit that he or she is a bad leader. Most leaders tend to surround themselves with praise singers who never tell them the truth. In fact, to be told that one is a bad leader is often considered an insult and a call for war. In our first reading last Sunday, we read how the priest Amaziah, (a bad shepherd and praise singer to the king), told prophet Amos to flee to the land Judah because Amos had the audacity to speak truth to power. To know whether or not we are good leaders, let us now consider the qualities of bad leaders as pointed out by our readings today:

1. Bad Leaders Promote Divisiveness.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah laments: "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and SCATTER the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: ‘You have SCATTERED my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.’" (Jeremiah 23:1-2).

The number one quality of bad leaders is scattering the sheep; dividing them, making them see themselves as enemies. Bad leaders operate by the principle of divide and rule. This was the principle our colonial masters used to enslave us and unfortunately, it is the same principle at work today. To conquer a people, make them aware of their differences and begin to favour one part over the other.

Let’s face it, never before has our nation been as divided as it is today. Consider all the appointments by this present administration and you will be shocked. It has become so bad that even to get a job in a federal government establishment, one would have to change their name to fit that of a particular tribe or religion. So long as we continue to play by the politics of “where a person comes from” as against “what a person is capable of doing”, we would end up having very poor leaders.

_Self-examination:_ What is my political position? Do I support people seeking electoral office based on their personal merit or based on where they come from? Do I feel it is the turn of my people to rule even if the only candidate we have has nothing to offer? 

2. Bad Leaders Encourage War and Hostility.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul describes Jesus in these words: “For he is our PEACE, who has made us both ONE and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility [among us] … So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” (Ephesians 2:14-17-18).

Good leaders always work hard to end all forms of hostilities between people, they disputes; bring an end to disagreements and wars and develop friendship among strangers. This is exactly what Jesus taught when he gave the example of the Good Samaritan to teach us that our neighbours are not necessarily those living beside our houses but those in need of our help.

Jesus was never tribalistic. In teaching us to pray, Jesus referred to God as “Our Father” showing us that we are brothers and sisters. Jesus also said: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:35) meaning we are related to Him not by blood but by our goodness and exemplary conduct. Because of Jesus, I am not afraid to go anywhere in the world because I know that as long as a Christian is there, I have a brother who would readily receive me.

_Self-Examination:_ What efforts am I making to bridge the gap that currently exists between North and South in this country? Do I see as neighbours all those who are suffering and are in need of help?

3. Bad Leaders Are Selfish and Self-centered; they lack Compassion

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus shows His great leadership prowess as the Good Shepherd par excellent. First Jesus could see that the disciples having returned from the missions were very tired and exhausted. Without waiting for them to complain, Jesus recommended a retreat: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest for a while.” A leader is able to feel the pulse of his people. Merely looking at them, a good leader can tell if his people are tired, hungry, or angry. Like a good mother who is able to tell what a baby needs even if the baby cannot talk, good shepherds can tell what exactly their flock needs at any point in time.

The disciples of Jesus also showed this same quality of compassion. They basically forgot about themselves and immersed themselves in attending to the people coming and going. The disciples had no time even to eat. The difference between these disciples and those we find today is that they so worldly-minded that they attend only to those rich enough to put fat envelopes in their pockets while to the poor ones they say: “please tell so and so that I am not at home.” 

While the disciples of Jesus left everything behind to follow Jesus, today’s disciples use the name of Jesus to pursue those same things they are supposed to leave behind. The Gospel of prosperity (material prosperity; not spiritual prosperity) has changed us from fishers of men to fishers of money.

The disciples agreed to go with Jesus to a lonely place to rest but upon getting there, they met a huge crowd already waiting for them. Jesus, despite his tiredness, again showed the depth of His compassion by not sending the crowd away. Jesus compared the crowd to sheep without a shepherd and He began to teach them many things. This spirit of self-sacrifice is one shining characteristic that only good shepherds possess.

_Self-examination:_ “What sacrifice am I making for those under my leadership? Do I care more about what I am gaining from my people? Am I willing to give up everything for their good, even my own life? If No, then I am a bad shepherd. In John 10:11, Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Our country would be better if we have leaders ready and willing to lay down their lives for us. Until then, we simply cannot expect much.

4. Bad Leaders Will Face Judgement

I will not fail to mention those bad leaders who devour their people will be greatly punished by God for their misdeeds. As Jeremiah says: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep.” If you discover that you are not helping those under your leadership, please honourably resign. Step down. Renounce that office or that position. On the day of judgement, you shall give an account of your leadership before God and your punishment will equal the millions of lives you destroyed. In fact, even while you are still alive, you will suffer terribly for your evil deeds.

In the words of Amos: “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end… the Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: ‘Surely I will never forget any of their deeds…’ ‘And on that day,’ says the Lord God, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.’ (Amos 8:4-10)

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd who lays His life for the sheep. Teach us to be good shepherds to those under our care and cleanse our land from bad shepherds. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Bible Study: Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-18, Mark 6:30-34).