Compassion in Leadership

11 December 2007 Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Advent
Isaiah 40, 1-11; Matthew 18, 12-14 The Shepherd

The prophet Isaiah illustrates God like a shepherd who gathers his sheep into his barn. Any sheep that strays, as the Gospel portrays, the shepherd will find it and bring it back home. In the olden days, the life of a shepherd was difficult. The terrain on which the flock grazes was stony and steep, thus, a sheep could easily get caught in crevasses or fell prey to wolves. The flock which a shepherd tended belong to the village, and so he was accountable to the community for each sheep he looked after. This explains why he would put his life over one sheep lost. On the other hand, the sheep recognized their shepherd’s voice or whistle which the shepherds used to gather his flock. There were usually more shepherds with their own flocks, and their flocks often get mixed up with the others.

The Israelites’ idea of leadership was shepherding. Two of their greatest leaders in the Old Testament, Moses and David were shepherds. In fact they called their king, the shepherd. For the Israelites, there was a quality in shepherding that is ideal for leaders. Today, we call those who has authority over a community, a pastor. However, we often think that to be a leader is to be rigid, strict and rule-bound. For many of us, we think we can gather people if they stick to the rules or they follow OUR rules. Sure it is true that laws create order, but experience tells us that it is love and concern that brings people together. The law should be the last resort.

For example, there are difficult times in our lives when we need comfort from people we love. There are rough times when we desire to be embraced, hugged and kissed. When a family member of an org mate passes away, leaders are challenged to encourage their members to lend support. People are endeared to each other when they have shared sorrows. St. Ignatius of Loyola calls this, cura personalis (personal care).

The prophet Isaiah comforts those in despair with words of wisdom. He gave them an image of compassion, with the shepherd gathering people into his barn.

When we are distressed, what do we do? Do we see God who comforts and speaks tenderly to Jerusalem. Is God a comforting God who allows us to rest in his arms; knowing that whatever happens to us, God’s love stays.

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