It’s pretty well known that sheep don’t fare very well without a shepherd. Sheep are vulnerable to all sorts of predators. And sheep are not very good at finding food or shelter.In today’s first reading, God is angry with the leaders of Israel, who have failed to guide and protect their flock. “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,” says the Lord. “You have scattered my sheep and driven them away; you have not cared for them.” In this case the sheep have shepherds, but the shepherds haven’t been doing their jobs very well.In today’s Gospel reading, crowds are following Jesus wherever he goes, even when he tries to retreat with his disciples “to a deserted place.” The crowds find out where Jesus is headed and get there before he does. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”Jesus, of course, is the good shepherd — eager to guide us to the nourishment we need in order to grow strong and healthy; and eager to protect us from danger. Left to our own devices, we are prone to wander and get lost. The people listening to Jesus must sense their own lost-ness, and find hope and direction in Jesus’ presence and in his teaching. They are so desperate for leadership that they follow Jesus wherever he goes. While I like the idea of Jesus as a wise and caring shepherd, I don’t really like to think of myself as a sheep. I like to think that I’m strong and self-sufficient, and that I can take care of myself and my family. But in reality I can’t do it on my own. It’s when I try to be self-sufficient that I am most prone to getting lost. It takes humility to accept guidance and protection, and it goes against our culture of self-reliance to acknowledge our limitations. Absent a shepherd, the sheep scatter and die. At the same time, a good shepherd isn’t much good if the sheep won’t follow him. The challenge for me in these readings is to have the humility and faith to trust the Good Shepherd to guide me. It’s not always easy. When I feel vulnerable, I tend to try and take care of myself — look to sources of immediate gratification and not budge from them. Fortunately for us, our shepherd does not abandon us even when we lack the wherewithal to follow him. The good news of the Gospel is that in Christ, God promises to guide us to wholeness, and to protect us from harm. Faith means following Jesus even when it seems like we are a long ways from the next pasture. Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected].