The readings today is another illustration of the depth of the Father’s love for His people. In the Gospel (Jn. 10:11-18), Jesus described His relationship with us like the relationship between a good shepherd and his sheep. As the good shepherd risks and is prepared to give up his life to protect the sheep, the Lord willingly allowed Himself to suffer a horrible passion, be crucified, and die on the Cross for our sake. On the other hand, a hired shepherd abandons the flock in the face of danger.
“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not His own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because He works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”
It is in fact a lesson for leaders who ought to model their lives after Jesus Christ. Leadership can be in the family or household, in the community, in government, at work or anywhere when others are placed under one’s care. Leaders ought to be brave, courageous and possess the attitude of unselfish service. The Pharisees and the other religious leaders understood that the Lord is referring to them when He described the hired shepherds. They were so angry that they resisted the Lord all the more and in the latter part of the chapter, they “again picked up rocks to stone him.” (v. 31) This anger continued until Jesus’ death.
The actions of a good shepherd for the flock is part of the shepherd’s job. However, the actions of the good shepherd are based upon the relationship that developed between the shepherd and the sheep. While the hired shepherd leaves when confronted with danger, the good shepherd stays with the sheep and is ready to give up His life for them. This is at the core of the difference between the good shepherd and the hired shepherd. The good shepherd knows the sheep and therefore acts out of love. This is not just a job, but His love for them is part of who He is to them. Thus, leaders should emulate such caring attitude to their followers as a good shepherd cares for his sheep.
Jesus also emphasized that His flock also include other sheep, far more than the dispersed children of Israel,
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (v. 16)
He gave His Church the mission of shepherding all peoples to the Father. This is seen in the First Reading (Acts 4: 8-12), in the testimony of St. Peter, whom the Lord appointed shepherd of the early Church. Peter quoted the Psalms and told Israel’s leaders of their rejection, eventual crucifixion and death of Jesus. Through the ministry of the Church, this mission continues until all the world is one flock under the One Good Shepherd. As to when that happens, only God knows.
Today is also the 2021 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the purpose of which is to publicly fulfill the Lord’s instruction to, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). These are the men and women who act as shepherds who lead us to God. Last December 8, 2020, on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the declaration of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, His Holiness Pope Francis wrote his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, whose aim is to increase our love for this great saint”.
“Saint Joseph is an extraordinary figure, yet at the same time one so close to our own human experience. He did not do astonishing things, he had no unique charisms, nor did he appear special in the eyes of those who met him. He was not famous or even noteworthy: the Gospels do not report even a single word of his. Still, through his ordinary life, he accomplished something extraordinary in the eyes of God.
God looks on the heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7), and in Saint Joseph he recognized the heart of a father, able to give and generate life in the midst of daily routines.”
The consecrated life is primarily faith and grace to start with. We are called to be holy and brave and those who fully dedicate their lives to God are a special lot in His eyes. They help the Church bring people closer to God and God closer to His people. They do the mission not out of an obligation but out of love and dedication to the Lord.
Let us pray that we grow more in faith and offer to others the same love that the Good Shepherd willingly and voluntarily give for His flock.
“The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” (Ps. 118: 22)