RCL Year A Proper 6 Alternate Readings
Exodus 19:2-8a, Psalm 100, Romans 5:1-8, Saint Matthew 9:35–10:8

“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”[1]

Those few words contain a lot. They describe what most people are like truly and deeply, when our pseudo-selves and our hard-won and protecting confidence are peeled away. We are very much like sheep without a shepherd. We are creatures who have abandoned our Creator. We graze here and there; we amble along; we pretend to know where we are going. You have heard this dimension of human experience described by Bob Dylan, the Nobel Laureate:

How does it feel, how does it feel?

To be on your own, with no direction home

A complete unknown, like a rolling stone[2]

The Christian message, Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom, is for rolling stones, for sheep without a shepherd; the message is for the troubled and those who feel abandoned; in other words, it is for everyone. And that message in big strokes is this.

You may feel like a sheep without a shepherd, but you have a shepherd who, perhaps unknown to you, is guiding your path in the direction of home. And not only is that shepherd guiding your path, that shepherd has so created the entire world that the world and everything in it refer to that shepherd. And every longing you may have is in its essence a longing for a relationship with God, who created you to be in a relationship with your Creator.

In broad strokes, that is the Gospel today and that is Jesus’ ministry. You heard in the Gospel today that the crowds had become so large that Jesus delegates much of the responsibility for rounding up the sheep to his apostles. “The harvest is plentiful,”[3] Jesus says, and he sends out laborers into the harvest.

Which means, by the way, not only are your footsteps guided, not only does everything you see refer you to the shepherd, but it means also that shepherd is actively looking for you. That shepherd sends out search parties looking for you.

From now until the end of November, Saint Matthew’s record of the Good Shepherd’s search party will be right before our eyes. And all along the way, our prayer shall be that we “may find and be found by him.”[4]

[1] Saint Matthew 9:36.

[2] Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

[3] Saint Matthew 9:37.

[4] BCP, page 386.