The first reading starts us out with beautiful proclamations of God's love for us. It amazes me how much He cares about each one of us – He is there to take care of us as individuals, not just the group. He cares for each and every one of us as if we were the only one that He was watching over. For example, He doesn’t say, “Oh, well Suzie wandered off today, guess we’ll chalk that one up as a loss;” He is willing to care for and go after each one of us as needed. There’s this song that I stumbled upon a few years ago, called “Lullaby for a Stormy Night,” by Vienna Teng. Throughout the song, the singer is comforting a child who is frightened by a loud storm. Many times when I am stressed or worried about life, I listen to this song and I picture God, holding and comforting me. His love is personal, and we are all special to Him. He says that whether we are lost, injured, sick, or straying from Him, He will seek us out and take care of us. A shepherd’s sole job is to tend to his flock, serving as a reminder that likewise, God’s main desire is to care for us, His beloved sons and daughters.
The psalm continues with this theme, as we all sang, “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” To me, this serves as an important reminder that part of God caring for us requires us to trust in Him and give our problems and concerns up to Him. Sometimes we can get bogged down in life by trivial problems, or we think we really need something, when God secretly has other plans for us. An important part of faith is being able to let go of what we think we want and need, along with what we are afraid of or nervous about, and just trusting Him to do what He always does: care for and guide us, keeping us from harm and lovingly watching over us always.
The Gospel transitions from the readings, which discussed how much God loves us, to how we should take this awesome love and spread it to others. In fact, it directly outlines what we should do (how much easier can it get, right?): “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
At first glance, it appears that Jesus is mostly asking us to serve the poor by providing them with material items that they lack, such as food, shelter, and clothes. However, the plot thickens! While doing all of those things and providing for people’s materialistic needs is very important, I believe that His examples go much deeper than materialistic items. For example, hunger can be physical, but it can also be emotional and spiritual. I think that this also challenges us to look deeper for those in need than the obvious people, such as a homeless person or an elderly neighbor who needs help driving. Many people around us who may seem to have everything that they need – a nice house, a good car, a stable job that provides for their family – may in fact be in need. Perhaps they are stressed about a project at school or work and could use some relaxation time, or maybe they have been discouraged and are in need of some motivating words and friendship. In my experiences, I’ve observed that everyone, no matter age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status, could use some love. And let me tell you a little secret: love is simple! I’ve been learning more recently that often times, people just need a friend, someone who will listen, perhaps lend some advice, and offer a smile and a hug, and that can fix almost anything. For the last few years, I haven’t been the best at keeping in touch with people. I always used to put my schoolwork first, and told myself that I would call my parents or reach out to that friend I hadn’t seen in a while after the next exam or project, but there was always something else that came up and prevented me from keeping up on my relationships. This year, however, I’ve tried to make more time for people. And I’ve begun to realize that in most situations, you don’t need to have tons of money or age-old wisdom to bestow on others; you very simply need time. Time to listen, time to talk, time to laugh, time to cry – time to show your love for others. This applies to everyone around you – your family members, that classmate you sit next to, the cashier at the grocery store, the homeless man on the street. Everyone could use a little extra love.
So, as the Christmas season creeps ever-closer (it’s a week until Advent, not quite sure where this semester went), I encourage you to spend some time reaching out to the people around you and praying to God about people you observe in need. Take the beautiful love that God has for you, and spread it to others, striving to be a shepherd for others as Christ is a shepherd for us.