THEME: THE GOOD SHEPHERD – THE MODEL FOR PRIESTS AND RELIGIOUS
READINGS: Acts 4:8-12/ 1 John 3:1-2/ John 10:11-18
4th Sunday of Easter
Today is Vocations Sunday. It is also the Good Shepherd Sunday. Firstly, an “exhortation” our Lord Jesus Christ made about 2,000 years ago is still valid: “the harvest is rich, but the labourers are few; therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send more labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). In the light of today’s gospel reading about the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:11-18), I would like to re-state the exhortation of Jesus as follows: “the flock is great, but the shepherds are few; therefore, pray the Lord of the flock to send more shepherds.” Let us, therefore, pray that the Lord will send us more shepherds, especially, priests and religious. Secondly, we pray that those whom the Lord sends as priests and religious will emulate Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
JESUS, THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Beloved, to appreciate Jesus’ reference to Himself as the “Good Shepherd”, let us begin from the Old Testament. The Israelites of old saw their leaders or kings as shepherds (Ezek. 34). Above all, they saw God Himself as their shepherd. Hence, the psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd …” (Psalm 23).
What, then, were the qualities the Israelites of old saw in ordinary shepherds for which reason they called their leaders and even God as shepherds? They saw, among other things, the following qualities in the responsible shepherds of their time: constant vigilance, fearless courage, selfless sacrifice, patient love and caring provider.
- Constant Vigilance: The responsible shepherds of old constantly watched over their flocks, so that none of the animals went astray nor was attacked. Similarly, Jesus constantly watches over us. Thus, He assures us: “I give my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28; cf. John 6:37-39). Beloved, we would be eternally grateful to Jesus if we could see just one act of His protection against the “spiritual anopheles mosquitoes” which fly around while we are asleep!
- Fearless Courage: The shepherds exhibited fearless courage in the face of wild beasts, as they were expected to produce evidence if any of the sheep was killed by a beast ( Exodus 22:13; Amos 3:12; cf. 1 Sam. 17:34-36). Similarly, because Jesus is fearless, He entered Jerusalem in a public manner even though He knew He would be arrested, tortured and crucified there. And at the Last Supper, the courage of Jesus the Good Shepherd embracing His crucifixion was evident as He told His disciples: “All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27).
- Selfless Sacrifice: Some of the shepherds sacrificed their lives in the process of protecting the animals from wild beasts and armed robbers. Similarly, Jesus expressed His selfless sacrifice: “I am the Good Shepherd, I lay down my life for my sheep. … I lay down my life of my own accord” (John 10:11,18). Indeed, out of love, Jesus has offered the one perfect sacrifice to save us all.
- Patient Love: The shepherds showed patient love for strayed sheep. Similarly, Jesus looks for the one lost sheep among the 100 sheep (Luke 15:1-7). Consider how many times we sin and yet He constantly looks for us and brings us to the Father.
- Caring Provider: The shepherds were caring providers who led their flock to where they could feed. Similarly, Jesus assures us: “I am the door; if anyone enters, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. … I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:9-10).
PRIESTS AS GOOD SHEPHERDS
All priests and religious must embrace and exhibit the above qualities of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Here, however, permit me to focus on the priests.
- Constant Vigilance: He should be available to the flock, and constantly reflect on their needs, and pray for God’s provision of these needs.
- Fearless Courage: Every priest should proclaim the Word of God without fear or favour. In addition, he should courageously undertake new missions entrusted to him.
- Selfless Sacrifice: Besides the sacrifices inherent in the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, the priest should embrace other sacrifices which his daily ministry may entail. Regarding the call for every priest to be selfless, St. Peter admonishes: “shepherd the flock which God has entrusted to you, guarding it not out of obligation but willingly for God’s sake; not as [those] looking for profit but with a generous heart” (1 Peter 5:2).
- Patient Love: With deep love for every soul entrusted to him, the priest should put in place a process by which the “lost sheep” of his parish could be brought back to the Good Shepherd.
- Caring Provider: He should be compassionate in feeding the flock with the Word and Sacraments. In addition, he should ensure that the poor and needy receive material support.
CONCLUSION Beloved, it should be clear that the life and task of a priest as a shepherd are very demanding. More so, how can he be effective, if he is to take care of so many parishioners? Across the world, the ratio of a priest to the lay faithful is about 1:3,000. So, imagine a shepherd alone in an open field with 3,000 sheep. Can he effectively handle them? In other words, if it is difficult for a shepherd to handle a flock of 100 sheep (as one strays away), then what about him handling 3,000 sheep? Will many more not stray away? Finally, beloved, the flock is great indeed, but the good shepherds are few; therefore, let us pray that the Lord of the flock may send more good shepherds. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis