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Why I am a Catholic

SHEPHERDS GET A POOR PRESS

by Ted Mason

Of all the figures gathered around the Christmas crib, the most unlikely group has to be the shepherds. Notwithstanding the OT image of the young David, and the gospel image of the Good Shepherd, Middle Eastern shepherds do not belong on the A list.

Schoolchildren know this intuitively. My grandchildren tell me the roles of the shepherds in the school Nativity play are not regarded highly. The plum roles are Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and the angels. It's automatically assumed that if you're picked as a shepherd, you will not have a speaking part and the costume and make-up mothers will make you look as scruffy and unkempt as possible. And yet the original shepherds held centre stage during an entire act of this unfolding drama.

These men are poor, dirty, probably stinking, shiftless day labourers, not known for their honesty and most likely carrying the stigma of "unclean". It is this motley group that learns first of Jesus' birth and his saving role for humankind. Mary and Joseph hear this momentous news, not from angels, but from shepherds. It is the shepherds who are the first messengers of God's saving presence.

So why are these shepherds so special? You and I probably wouldn't walk on the same side of the street as them; I certainly wouldn't give any of them a lift in my car, and my dog Jesse wouldn't let them past the front gate. These shepherds are ignorant, they nothing of the Law, and certainly don't observe it. Yet God chooses these people to be the first human proclaimers of the Good News.

Perhaps it's time to find our shepherd within. Perhaps there's a part of us that is "dirty" and "unkempt" and "isolated" from the rest of humanity, waiting patiently for the Good News that will bring us into God's presence and his saving, freeing power. Perhaps there's a part of us that ignores the presence of God in our daily lives. The shepherds on the hillside that night were not bothered by shopping, parking, office parties or Christmas card lists. Their isolation served one good purpose; they were able to hear the Good News free from distractions.

As you approach the crib this Christmas, why not join the shepherds; listen to the angels proclaim the Good News to you; the news you so desperately need to hear: and then go off and tell others.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Have a great Christmas.

Ted Mason















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