25 April 2010. Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 13, 14-52; Psalm 99; Revelation 7, 9-17; John 10, 27-30
Our image of the Good Shepherd as a leadership principle traces its roots centuries ago in the Jewish history. Not without reason: the shepherd puts his life at stake for his flock. It was not easy to be a shepherd in those days. When the terrain was rocky, the shepherd would not just look for a good pasture, but look for the sheep that went astray. The flock would tend to mingle with others, so he must identify each and every single sheep in the fold.
Now, the Jewish authorities were supposedly the leaders who shepherded their flock. But they had become irresponsible and corrupt, ingratiating themselves rather than the people they served. And so God took away their pastoring and made Himself the Pastor. In the Old Testament, He appointed David, the shepherd to be King, and in his line, Jesus. God became shepherd in Jesus. Jesus’ fidelity to His sheep, His sacrifice for the flock stands opposite to the corrupt officials of His time.
What are the qualities that makes Jesus the Good Shepherd. First, Jesus would gather his sheep and bring them to good pasture. He knows each and every person’s name and they recognize His voice. In the story of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene recognizes Jesus’ voice and Jesus in turn called out her personal name.
Every Christian emulates Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We should be people who agents of unity, than division. We gather people, and feed them with the things that they need and desire. In our service, we do not serve people what WE think they need, how WE think they would want to be served. For example, many choirs forget to make what we call, the Pastoral Judgement. Pastoring is shepherding: can the congregation sing what they are singing? Often, many choirs sing what THEY would like to sing, without considering the age, culture, needs of the people who attend the masses. When choirs sing this way, they do not serve, they perform. The best choir is the no choir: you can’t hear the choir because everybody is singing. When a choir decreases as the congregation increases, as John the Baptist say about Jesus, then the choir is able to genuinely lead people to pray.
Second, Jesus would lay down His life for the sheep. This self-sacrifice is the genuine act of love. This self-sacrifice is the characteristic function of Jesus. When we love, we are saying to our beloved that their life is far more important than ours. We give what is best for them, despite the pain that it demands on us. And often, what is good is hurting and humbling. Parents gather their children in order for them to let them go in the future. Even lovers who might begin with a close and exclusive relationship will have to let go and build new friendships that derives inspiration and learning from what they share exclusively. Once a relationship is too possessive-obsessive and tightly closed, it eventually crumbles because it is too navel gazing and suffocating. Thus, to maintain relationship is to die to ourselves. To let us decrease while our beloved increases. We hope that when the other also loves this way, then both of them will see to it that they both grow.
Finally, Jesus is the “gate” because it is He provides safety for the flock by protecting them from marauders. To shepherd a people means that we protect them from what would be harmful to their life; or provide them the skills to protect themselves. There are developmental stages that we all undergo as persons. To protect the people we pasture, like our children or our students, means that we ensure that they would mature and develop towards their full potential. The influx of information may help or harm an individual; some information would be helpful when they mature, but harmful when they are young. We have to know when to be caring and when to challenge. It is important that we also trust our people to think and weigh what they would adapt in their lives.
Or, we could help them be critical of what they encounter daily. At the age of reason, we teach our high school students to critique a literary work or a visual encounter. We give them the process to undertake in order to view a work of art; and develop their own opinion of it. In the bigger life in a university, everything is placed on your feet to judge what would you would take on and what you would reject. Like the internet, everything is made available. I believe to be the gate today, as Jesus is, means equipping our “flock” with the tools they need to discern what leads to God and what does not. We cannot protect them forever, even superheroes in comic books protect some but not all. When we are able to embed values in our children long before they are exposed to the world, we have done much. Simple: those who survive college and the dog-eats-dog world are those who have strong foundations. Most of those who rise to be true shepherd-leaders with values are those who, in the first place, have been the sheep of loving shepherds.