I was listening to a lecture not long ago on the profession of ‘shepherding’ in the ancient Near East, and what the many metaphorical biblical references to shepherding imply about divine/human models of leadership. It was fascinating, and many of the assumptions I had formed about what a shepherd ‘looked like’ were simply wrong.
One really interesting point he made was on the rick/danger inherent in the profession, as David’s self-report about his own pre-Goliath shepherding days makes evident. Danger came from such things as weather, geography, bandits and wild animals.
‘A good shepherd,’ he said, ‘has every fiber of his being conspiring toward one goal: the well-being of the flock. Scars and battle marks on the body incurred while fending off attacks were considered badges of honor; and in the shepherd business, the higher the price paid, the bigger the flock as more people would entrust their flocks to the good shepherd. And more, the sheep who would witness the shepherd’s sacrifices were even more trusting of his lead.’
In this single insight from his lecture, which leaps out of today’s Mass reading, I have uncovered an endless resource for meditation on the vocation of both priest and parent.
In particular, it occurred to me that one of the deepest ‘conversions’ I have undergone as a father over the last 16 years has been the progressive transformation of my ‘every fiber’ toward my children’s welfare and well-being. In that sense, I can say that I’m not simply ‘a father’ but I am father. The first is mere biology, the second, identity. Actually, I remember the day it first occurred to me when my oldest son called me ‘Daddy’ one day, and I thought with a mix of joy and awe, ‘That’s me!’
Though I am obviously a flawed and ever-progressing (hopefully!) father, I can say without a doubt that my children have called out of me an identity that was latent, but has now changed the way I see all of life. I can say the same is absolutely true of my wife, who is an extraordinary mother and is a wonder to behold! And since, as the psalm says, ‘deep calls on deep,’ the singular gift she gives me is her constant challenge that I become a greater father, especially in those particular ways that my sinful nature resists and which she knows oh-so-well. Hopefully she can say the same.
On Judgment Day, I am unambiguously certain that after examining the luster or tarnish of my wedding ring, Christ will look at me and say, ‘Where are your scars, O shepherd?’
On that day we will all rejoice in the scars borne for love’s sake.