WHO IS THE TRUE SHEPHERD?
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 11:1-18; PS 42:2-3, 42:3-4; JOHN 10:1-10 ]
There are many people who claim to be able to give us life, peace, love and happiness. But do they really give us life? Do they really lead us to the world that we really want, where there is peace, harmony, unity and progress for all? What we see in the world is division, injustice, nationalism, individualism, selfishness leading to inequality and poverty. That is why it is important to distinguish the true shepherds from the false shepherds. Otherwise, by following the false shepherds, we will be cheated and destroyed. As the Lord warns us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”
The true shepherd, of course, is Christ Himself. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:14f) As the Shepherd, He knows each one of us by name. He knows our struggles, our pains and our fears. This is because the shepherd lives amongst the people. Like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Mt 8:17) Indeed, during His ministry on earth, Jesus was always with the people in their sickness and pain. Like a father or mother, the Shepherd is always there for His children. Just as parents would do all that they can to ensure that their children are well fed, educated, comfortable and happy in life, so too Jesus the Good Shepherd desires the same for His sheep.
The shepherd is the one who leads and walks before his people. Jesus said, “the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice.” He not only shows the way but he walks the way. He is a good mentor and leader not just by his words but by his life. He lives with his people and journeys with them in good times and in bad. As the Shepherd, He gave His life for us. He made it clear that He had come so that we may have life and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:11) By so doing, He teaches us that we too can find life if we give up our life for others. This made St Paul remark, “For the love of Christ urges us on because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Cor 5:14f)
Jesus is not merely the shepherd but He is also the Gate. Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly, I am the gate of the sheepfold. All others who have come are thieves and brigands.” To say that He is the Gate means to say Jesus is the one through whom we have access to eternal life. As Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (Jn 14:6f) Only in Christ Jesus, do we know the way to the fullness of life because only Jesus who is from God can show us who the Father is. “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (Jn 3:13) Indeed, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (Jn 1:18) Christ is the revelation of the Father and therefore the Word of God in person. Clearly, for us, Christians, Jesus who is the Son of God is the only One who can show us the Face of the Father. It is for this reason that St Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) St Paul affirms this truth when He said, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.” (1 Tim 2:5)
Accordingly, anyone who is a shepherd after the heart of Christ must first have entered the Gate himself. Jesus warns us, “anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out.” We cannot be true shepherds after the heart of Christ unless we first enter the gate, that is, Jesus Himself. Unless we come to know Jesus personally and have surrendered our lives to Him, we cannot lead others to Him or to the Father. Unless we have heard His voice ourselves, we cannot impart the truth to others.
Coming to Jesus who is the Gate, therefore, is the first priority of the shepherd. Consequently, all shepherds after the heart of Christ must make time for prayer. They must be in close intimacy with the Lord, basking in His love. Just as Jesus drew strength daily from His Father, so, too, we must draw strength from our Lord. This also means that a leader must also grow in faith and in understanding of the Word of God by spending time in meditation and study. No one who is unfamiliar with what the Good Shepherd teaches can lead others to their destiny. To be a real shepherd, we must not just be prayerful but always studying and forming ourselves in the faith, either formally through serious biblical and theological courses or through personal reading and study.
Unfortunately, today we have many shepherds who are killing the sheep under their care. They only want to enjoy the benefits from looking after the sheep and taking the places of honour. Indeed, we have leaders who are more interested in power, glory, honour and the material gains that come with leadership than about the good of the ordinary people. This is because they do not have the heart of the Good Shepherd as they do not know Him. Instead of instructing them according to the scriptures, they give false hope and easy solutions to their moral dilemma because they want to be popular and accepted by society. Without speaking the truth, we will eventually mislead them and cause them to suffer more, if not them, their children’s children. This is what the world seeks to do, to pander to the selfish and immoral desires of people so that they can continue to hold on to power. It is a case of the sheep leading the shepherd and not what a shepherd should do, to lead, to explain, to enlighten and to empower. But they cannot do this unless they know the truth.
Secondly, a true shepherd must be willing to die for his sheep. Jesus made it clear, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13) St Paul went further when he reflected, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8) Are there such shepherds around today? Are shepherds only concerned about those who care for them and those who love them? Do shepherds reach out to those who have strayed, lost their way, are hurt, injured, hungry and worn out by life’s struggles? When a shepherd cares more for his own convenience, his pleasure and his personal interest than the needs of his sheep, he is not a true shepherd. Worse still, when a shepherd takes advantage of the sheep for his own glory interests and gains! No shepherd must fleece his sheep for himself, taking the wool and the milk whilst leaving them naked, hungry and wounded. Our Lord died for His sheep and sacrificed Himself to purify and sanctify us.
Today, St Peter showed himself to be a true shepherd who willing stood up for Christ’s sheep, even at the expense of causing scandal and opposition among his Jewish community for accepting the Gentiles into the faith. He was conscious of what the Lord said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16) Indeed, salvation is given to all and not just to the Jews. St Paul says that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)
St Peter was willing to die for what the Lord revealed to Him, for his primary concern was not his safety or popularity but the salvation of all, Jews and Gentiles alike. It was his courageous decision that made it possible for the Gentiles to enter into the Church. This was confirmed by the Lord when the Holy Spirit was also bestowed on them even before they were baptized with water. The Lord personally baptized them with His Spirit. Hence, he concluded, “I realised then that God was giving them the identical thing he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way?’ This account satisfied them, and they gave glory to God, ‘God’ they said, ‘can evidently grant even the pagans the repentance that leads to life.'”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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