Moses said to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD‘s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
Moses’ job was not a cushy one. The people of Israel were chronic complainers and as their leader, Moses was the most convenient lightning rod for their angst. One wonders how much stress-related insomnia he suffered, how many ulcers he powered through, over the course of his 40-year tenure. But at last, finally, they stood on the precipice of the Promised Land—at last, finally, he would get to see the fruits of all his labors: Israel marching into their new homeland. Only he wouldn’t get to see that. The people indeed would come to the Promised Land, but Moses himself wouldn’t see the day. He’d glimpse the Promised Land from afar, and then his earthly life would end.
If there were ever a time for lashing out, it seems this would be it. If anyone ever had a reason to be jaded and angry, it would seem to be Moses. But instead of telling Israel, “Good luck living without me!” Moses pleads for the people’s wellbeing; he prays that God would give them a strong leader. How surprising, how unexpected!
But it’s not all that surprising when we remember what the kingdom of God is all about. 1,500 years after Moses died, Jesus also saw a people lacking spiritual direction, helpless, and perhaps not even realizing how desperate a situation they were in. And instead of saying, “You deserve what you get. Good luck trying to make it without me!” Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
That surprising compassion, when jadedness would’ve been completely justified, is what pushed Jesus beyond mere sympathetic feelings and to life sacrificing, sin atoning, world redeeming action. We are the beneficiaries of that selfless compassion. And now we are grateful, joyful imitators of that selfless compassion as well.
How desperately we need you, Good Shepherd! Thank you for looking on your sheep with compassion. Give us hearts like yours, that we may treat others with care and compassion as well. Amen.