Most of the images of Jesus we see in our churches are those of the Sto. Niño, the Sacred Heart and Christ the King — all with crown and scepter, symbols of power. We seldom see an image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying a lamb on his lap or on his shoulders, or leading his flock. Yet this is how Jesus described himself — not as a mighty king but as a humble shepherd; not in terms of power and prestige but in terms of love, service and sacrifice.
The shepherd image is very much a part of the Old Testament. Yahweh is often called the “Shepherd of Israel.” One of the most beautiful and best known psalms in the bible is psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” A shepherd differs very much from office or factory workers; the latter handle tools, machines, computers, and telephones—all of which they leave behind after office hours. A shepherd, however, deals with sheep—living creatures. He cares for them, feeds them, protects them day and night, and treats them almost as if they were human beings: “They hear my voice… and follow me. I give them eternal life.”
Today’s gospel is part of Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse (Jn 10:1-30). Jesus describes himself as the gate of the sheepfold. He sets himself in contrast to “those who came before me who were thieves and robbers.” Jesus is a good shepherd and a good leader because he feeds and cares for the sheep; while the false shepherds and leaders feed on the sheep, exploit them and take advantage of them for their (the leaders’) own profit. Jesus is the gate leading to fullness of life and salvation.
Today’s gospel is particularly relevant and challenging for all of us who exercise leadership roles in the Church or in society: priests, parents and public servants. Jesus sets himself as the model we should strive to imitate. We priests (and bishops, of course) should ask ourselves: Am I a good shepherd, or just a good administrator, a good manager, a good fund raiser and a good constructor? Where do I spend most of my time and resources, in feeding the sheep or in putting up structures? More often than not, promotion in the ranks is based on a priest’s ability to raise funds or build churches rather than in his work of visiting the sick and the poor or in building basic ecclesial communities.
Parents should also ask themselves: Are we good shepherds or just good providers? Quite often, parents, especially in well-to-do families, think that their main role is to provide for the material needs of their children. “Why do you complain?” they ask their children. “We give you everything you want. You are enrolled in the best school, have the best car, computer… everything.” Yet the young need more than money, cars and computers. They need their parents’ care, affection and quality time. Students in the best schools (who have every gadget) are often victims of psychological problems, drug addiction, etc. So, parents, by all means, be good providers; but, above all, be good shepherds.
As for public “servants,” it is only during electoral campaigns that we hear the word “servant,” when candidates woo their constituents, shake hands, caress children, and issue motherhood statements and unbelievable promises: ”Give me a chance to serve you and I will remove poverty, hunger, unemployment, etc.” Once in office, however, it is an entirely different story; instead of feeding the flock, they feed on it. Anyone who has had to transact business in a government office knows this. It is our task, therefore, to discern and to pray, so that we may find truly good shepherds who will look after the welfare of the sheep and not after own profit.
Good Shepherd Sunday is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations—a day to pray for the increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. It is no secret that vocations all over the world, most especially in first world countries, are dwindling. Smaller families, wider range of options open to the youth, and the tarnished image of priests as a result of the sexual abuse controversy are some of the contributing factors. Parents play an important role in sowing the seed of vocation in their children. The Christian community must be made aware of its responsibility to provide shepherds to minister to the flock. Today, while attending Mass and praying for vocations, the members of every parish assembly might look at the Mass presider and ask themselves: “How many priests has our family, or our community, given to the Church?” May the Lord fill the hearts of parents and children with the spirit of service and generosity.