4th Sunday of Easter (A) – 14
Acts 2:14a – 36-42, 1Peter 2: 20b – 25, John 10: 1-10
Today I am reminded of a story of a sheep farmer whose neighbor’s dogs were continually killing his sheep. To remedy the situation he came up with three options: (1) He could sue and bring his neighbor to court. (2) He could build a stronger and higher fence to keep the dogs out. (3) Finally, he chose the third option: he gave two lambs to his neighbor’s children. In due time the lambs grew up and had other little lambs and the neighbor and his children had to see the sheep not as an impersonal herd, but as something warm and fuzzy. They soon penned in their dogs and the problem was solved.
Happy Mothers’ day to all the Mothers. My God bless you all. Today is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and each year the gospel reading focuses on some aspect of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This year (Year A) it is “I am the gate of the sheepfold” (Jn.10:1-10). Year B: “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn.10:11-18). Year C: “My sheep hear my voice – I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (Jn.10:27-30)
Back in Jesus’ time everyone knew about shepherds, their sheep, and how shepherds and sheep interacted with each other. The dynamics between them were well known. Not so today. Few of us have watched shepherds tending their sheep. But if we think of shepherding as leadership we can get a better grasp of what it means for us in our times. Shepherding and leading have similar dynamics in our relationships with others, particularly in caring for others as God would have us.
The shepherds of our day, to mention a few, are parents and grandparents, coaches, teachers, clergy and nuns, senior partners in firms, officers in the military, and executives in companies and so on. If anyone is placed under your supervision or care, you are a shepherd. All who are in leadership positions are modern day shepherds.
This is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today, the Church calls us to reflect on the meaning of God’s call and to pray for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life, reminding us that the entire Christian community shares the responsibility for fostering vocations. Both the Old and New Testaments use the image of a Shepherd and His flock to describe the unique relation of God to Israel and of the Christ to Christians.
When Jesus said, “All who came before me are thieves and bandits,” he can hardly have meant to include the great prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…. But there were plenty of his contemporaries who deserved to be described as spiritual thieves and bandits. The expression ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ we owe to Aesop, whose stories have delighted and instructed children and adults alike for 25 centuries.
“A wolf found great difficulty in getting at the sheep owing to the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs. But one day it found the skin of a sheep that had been flayed and thrown aside, so it put it on over its own pelt and strolled down among the sheep. The lamb that belonged to the sheep, whose skin the wolf was wearing, began to follow the wolf in the sheep’s clothing; so, leading the lamb a little apart, he soon made a meal of her.”
A deceiver has to look like the real thing – has to look and sound genuine. Otherwise he will deceive nobody. Someone can quote and preach the Gospel to you, making all the right sounds and looking very serious, while robbing you spiritually – robbing you even of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit in you: your real wisdom, your understanding…your fortitude…your joy…. Jesus gives the Spirit, the deceiver steals it away.
The genuine shepherd “goes ahead of the sheep and they follow him.” He does not stand back, indicating the gate; he “goes ahead.” Perhaps that is the key to discernment. What are the characteristics of good shepherds? What makes them effective?
Good leaders (shepherds) want those who are in their charge to succeed, to grow in competence, and to advance. Their own success is found in the successes of those under their supervision. After all, the growth of an enterprise comes from the growth of those who comprise it.
Good leaders have character. They stand for something and exert a positive influence on others. Good leaders are accountable for the choices they make and likewise hold those in their care accountable. Leaders, good leaders, have a clear sense of purpose. They know where they are going and they clearly communicate their goals to those around them. They make their choices knowing that they will be accountable, accountable to others and accountable to themselves.
Good leaders know their own limitations but they are not governed by them. A leader who cannot accept himself or herself, who labors with doubt about his or her competency, with feelings of inferiority or inadequacy will lose his or her ability to lead. Good leaders are people who are comfortable with themselves and at peace with themselves.
One cannot give what one does not have. A leader filled with self- doubt will project that on to those whom he or she is leading. Self-punishment leads to punishment of others, Doubt of self leads to doubt of others. Leaders: it’s not about you; it’s about those in your care. Self-centered leaders who think only of their own promotion need to get over themselves.
Pope Francis is calling us to serve a purpose greater than ourselves, to get over self-concern and devote ourselves to the concerns of others. That means we can’t sit behind the desks of our own sanitized environments. Good leaders smell the smell of the sheep and immerse themselves in the mud of human failures, human sins and human problems. Good leaders are good shepherds… and good shepherds are good leaders.
We need to be good shepherds and good leaders. Everyone who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd. Hence, pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials, caregivers, among others, are all shepherds. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time, talents and blessings for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers. Parents must be especially careful of their duties toward their children by giving them good example. Above all, parents should pray for their children and infuse into them sound Christian moral principles.
We also need to be good sheep in the fold of Jesus, the Good Shepherd: Our local parish is our sheepfold, and our pastors are our shepherds. Jesus is the High Priest, the Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, the pastors are their helpers and the parishioners are the sheep. Hence, as the good sheep of the parish, parishioners are expected to:
(a) Hear and follow the voice of our shepherds through their homilies, Bible classes, counseling and advice. (b) Receive the spiritual food given by our pastors by regular participation in the Holy Mass, by frequenting the Sacraments and by prayer services, renewal programs and missions. (c) Cooperate with your pastors by giving them positive suggestions for the welfare of the parish, by encouraging them in their duties, by lovingly correcting them with constructive criticism when they are found misbehaving or failing in their duties and by praying for them. (d) Actively participate in the work of various councils, ministries and parish associations.
So let’s you and I get over our self-concerns and devote all of our concerns to those whom God has placed in our lives to care for, to develop, and to succeed in all their endeavors as they journey through life headed back home to our Father in heaven. Treat each person in your care as a uniquely dignified individual, a person made in God’s image and likeness, beloved by God and precious in His sight. Do that and you will be a good shepherd.
Follow the example of Pope Francis and you will be a good leader. Amen.