The Forgotten Shepherd
by Fr. James C. Meena
Nearly 2,000 years ago, as told in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Angels appeared to shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem and announced to them the birth of their Saviour in the City of Bethlehem. They instructed the shepherds to go to the place where the young child was and to worship him. The shepherds were excited and happy to receive this joyous news and they were anxious to go to the place of the child's birth but they had a problem.
Those of us whose ancestors come from an agricultural society will understand their dilemma. We know that shepherds have the responsibility of protecting their flock. And they dare not leave them alone lest they be attacked by fierce animals. Therefore these shepherds decided that they would choose one from their midst to stay with the flocks while the rest went to see the child. Being devout Jews and understanding the prophecies of old, the shepherds were anxious to see the new born Messiah. But there was one among them, a young boy whose name was 'Isa, who was also a Samaritan. He was a stranger and an alien amongst the Jews, therefore the shepherds decided that they would leave him to watch the sheep since the birth of the Messiah must be of less importance to him than it was to them. So they ordered him to stay as they went to the cave where Christ was born.
Now the experiences of the shepherds are clearly alliterated for us in the Gospel, therefore it is not necessary for me to recount them for you. However the experience of 'Isa is not known to us. 'Isa stayed with the flocks but he was very angry. He felt that he had been cheated out of an opportunity to see that which the angels had announced to him as well as to the others. And as the night grew on his anger grew and his resentment changed to deep bitterness. After the shepherds returned, 'Isa had made a vow to himself that one day he would be the owner of his own flocks and no one would order him around again. From that day forward he dedicated himself to learning how to be the best shepherd possible and, little by little as the years passed he gathered his own flock and became very wealthy. But 'Isa became a bitter man carrying the hatred within his heart that he felt the night of the birth of Christ.
When he reached his middle years, the age of 40 or 45, he became very ill. He did not know what was wrong with him. He had high fevers and chills, he ached all over and he went from doctor to doctor, wasting his wealth to seek a cure and none of them could help him until one day he noticed that people were looking at him in a peculiar way and, even more, avoiding him, staying as far away from his as possible. He did not understand this until a physician one day looked at him and said, "my friend, you have leprosy."
Now those who understand the devastating impact of an illness like leprosy must understand how 'Isa felt. Nothing meant anything to him anymore. He went from village to village begging for his food, barely surviving because of the fear that people had of leprosy. One day in the depth of his misery and his bitterness, he was walking from Jerusalem through the hills of Galilee and he saw nine men walking in a hurry as though they were going some place special and it seemed to him that they were lepers as well. Thinking that they might be going some place where there might be food or shelter he followed them. They soon came into a village of Galilee and approached a man who was teaching in front of a Synagogue, a man who seemed to be covered with a ray of light. The nine approached this man and 'Isa followed.
The preacher looked at them and said, "What do you wish of me?"
One answered, "Lord, that we might be healed."
The man said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the Priests", and as they went on their way to the Priests they were healed.
Imagine their joy, imagine the embraces, the hugs, the kisses, the dancing in the streets. After their joy at the realization of their being healed had ebbed, 'Isa pulled away from the other nine and he went back to the place where the healer was and he glorified God and knelt before the healer and thanked Him for his healing. The healer looked at him and looked at his disciples and he said, "Were there not ten lepers that were cleansed? Where are the other nine? Is there only this Samaritan to come and to give thanks?" And he said to the Samaritan, "My son, thy faith hath made thee whole, rise and go your way in peace."
This is the story of every person who feels that the world has cheated him or her out of something. Had the forgotten shepherd dedicated his life to a greater understanding of God, had he devoted himself to a greater life of spiritual growth rather than to a love of money and property perhaps his life would have been different. The lesson for us is that the Lord never lays on us any burden that we cannot bear . . . that the Lord loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son in order that we might be saved . . . that God is so compassionate and merciful, that He cares so much about us that He will not permit us to live in despair if we will but turn our face to him and say. "Lord, heal me," even as he healed 'Isa, the forgotten shepherd.
This story that I tell you is an invention of my own heart and it is something that I think applies to all of us at one time or another, to one degree or another. If we carry bitterness and anger in our hearts then we lose sight of God. Not until we turn our faces back to Him can we be healed and made whole. Let us remember the words of Jesus when he spoke to His namesake 'Isa, "Thy faith hath made thee whole."
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America