Daniel Benedict is an Abbot of the Order of Saint Luke, writer, teacher, and practitioner of the contemplative life, living in Waialua, Hawaii.
Read Jeremiah 23:1-4
It is ironic that in many churches a lay reader will read this text while the ordained pastor (shepherd of the flock) will hear these words of accusation and the promise of a worthy successor. Hearers beware! Jeremiah speaks plainly in pressing home God’s charges against the pastors (the religious and civil rulers of his day): “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!”
Attending is the word in play. The shepherds have not attended to the flock, so God will now attend to the abusive shepherds. A quick consult with the dictionary opens up the rich meanings of attend: “to look after, to take care of, to take charge of, to listen to, to be present with, to accompany, to be mindful, to be ready to serve.” Israel’s rulers have not attended to the sheep, so God will intervene. God will gather, bring back, and raise up rulers who will shepherd them beyond fear and dismay. The phrase no one will be missing brings comfort to a world of missing persons, errant drones, roadside bombs, and devastating tsunamis.
Pastoral duties and mutual oversight can be systematized and efficient. Still, the ways in which we exercise attentiveness gets to the heart of ongoing spiritual formation for all of the baptized. In total ministry, all are accountable for shepherding. Bernard of Clairvaux said that true piety is leaving room for consideration—with God as the chief object of that consideration. If God is attentive to the sheep, then our consistent thoughtful regard will lead us to attend to God in the midst of the flock.
Learning to accompany one another requires paying attention to God in our primary practices of worship, prayer, reflection on scripture and life and seeing people, not as numbers but as unique and beloved companions.
How is God calling you to attend to others in the congregation? in the other spheres of your daily life?