Woe to the shepherds! Too often and repeatedly, political and religious leaders destroy and scatter, drive away and ignore need (Jer. 23:1,20). God is not mocked. “So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord (Jer. 23:2b). “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock … and I will bring them back to the fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply” (Jer. 23:3; cf. Gen. 1:28). Still, God moves through human agency, promising an heir who will rule in righteousness over the nation, and lesser shepherds to bring order and security (Jer. 23:4-5).
Leadership is a yoke eased only when carried in the strength of a supernatural grace supplemented by daily and strong doses of humility. Speaking of the Church, but pertaining as well to the public square, St. Augustine says this: “There are many Christians who, not having been called to positions of leadership, arrive to God perhaps by an easier journey and who may even move along more freely because they carry less baggage” (Sermo 46, 1-2, my trans.).
The harder path, the difficult road of leadership in human community, though always a burden, may also be a calling, a shepherding under the sovereign grace of an observing and guiding God. And who is not, even if in small ways, a leader at times, the person who bears responsibility for and with others? This too is what it means to deny oneself, to take up one’s cross on a road to a place called the Skull (Luke 23:33).
The warning to leaders is, strangely, a warning also about agitation and trouble in every speck of a beautiful and frail creation. The earth changes and mountains shake; waters roar and the hills sway; nations make an uproar and kingdoms totter; the earth melts (Ps. 46:1-6). So it has been since the old story of depravity’s birth. Not to be outdone, God can shake the cosmos too, rattle the creation back to elemental being, to the moment when everything erupted from love’s free-giving, love’s provident direction, and love’s leading all things to an end like but better than the beginning. “See what desolation [God] has brought on the earth” (Ps. 46:8). See how the violence of God is love’s nonviolence. “[God] breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shield with fire” (Ps. 46:9).
We cannot make wars to cease among nations and tribes and communities and families, nor can we prevent or correct every natural disaster. As long as evil lurks in the human heart, humanity and creation will groan. And yet we are not to give up in the work of creating a better world, advocating for a more humane life, and struggling to establish health and balance in nature’s diverse and unified being. Indeed, our struggle is empowered by a victory already won. Christ has already put his feet into baptizing waters, already assumed into his divine being the human being of a human mother. He is in the midst of us. He has already suffered evil’s attack, from demons and humans and spikes and wood. He has countered not by retribution but by a devouring river of love. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”
Forgiving them, he is dismissing them, letting them go, a point clear enough by the election of a Greek and Latin word. “Let them go,” he prays. Do they get away with murder? God bid! What they get by Christ’s dismissal is undeserved peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20). Go forth in God’s peace, then, and do the work of reconciliation.
Look It Up: Read Luke 23:34.
Think About It: Peace be with you!