Christ Our Good Shepherd Leads Us through the Difficult Terrains of Life!
Readings: 1st: Acts 2: 14.36-41; Ps 22: 1-6; 2nd: 1Pt 2: 22-25; Gos Jh 10: 1-10)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
As the Church celebrates Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd and Guardian of our souls on this 4th Sunday of Easter, and as we her Faithful continue to rejoice in the Lord who leads us through the difficult terrains of life, Maud Lindsay’s short story titled: “The Little Shepherd” comes to mind. The shepherd was sick, and his wife looked out from her door with anxious eyes. “Who will carry the sheep to the pasture lands today?” “I will,” cried her little son Jean. “I will, mother, let me.” “Let the lad go,” said his old grandfather. “When I was no older than he, I watched my father’s flock.” “Never fear,” said little Jean. “The wolf shall not have any of my white lambs.” Off he went. Other shepherds were already there with their flocks, so Jean was not lonely. He watered his sheep at the brook, and led them along its shady banks to feed in the sunny fields beyond, and not one lambkin strayed from his care to the forest paths. Soon, out on the king’s highway, beyond the hill, Jean heard the sound of pipes, drums, and tramp of many feet. The other shepherds heard it too, and they began to listen, to stare, and to run. “The king and his knights are coming,” they cried. “Come let us see them as they pass by.” Jean asked: “Who will take care of the sheep?” But nobody answered. “I must stay with the sheep!” Jean insisted, turned and went back, though the pipes and drums all seemed to say, “Come this way!” That day, though there appeared to be nothing in sight to harm the sheep, and the pasture lands were quiet and peaceful, but suddenly came into the forest a very hungry wolf. His eyes were bright, his ears sharp, and his four feet were as soft as velvet. As he came creeping under and through the wood, he spied the sheep left alone in the meadows. “Now, it is my chance,” he said, and out he sprang just as little Jean down the hill. “Wolf, wolf, wolf!” shouted Jean. He was only a little boy, but he was brave and his voice rang clear as a bugle call over the valley. Jean’s cry attracted the shepherds and knights and the king himself who came running and riding to answer his cry, and the gray wolf sped away to the forest shades. At eventide, Jean led his flock home and none was missing.
In the first reading of today, Peter himself, a good and chief shepherd among the “Apostolic Shepherds”, the “primus inter paris” (first among equals), played his leadership and pastoral role well by being the first to speak on behalf of the rest by the power of the Holy Spirit. Of course, his efforts did not go in vain or un-noticed because his speech made the difference and led to the greatest conversion of souls ever recorded in the history of mankind in a single day – three thousand! The lesson here is quite simple. A shepherd who prepares himself and parleys with the Holy Spirit will definitely become a powerful instrument of conversion in God’s hands. God knew that Peter was capable, so he gave him a bumper harvest of souls. This is the reward of a good shepherd!
In the second reading, Peter also, in his pastoral letter reminds us of the fact that to be a good shepherd, we must endure ordeals as Christ our good and chief shepherd did for our sake the sheep of his flock. He was not selfish with his life, did not shy away from his duty, but instead endured. Peter reminds us thus: “Christ (the good shepherd) suffered for you and left an example for you to follow the way he took…He was insulted … was tortured, he made no threats…He was bearing our faults in his own body on the cross…through his wounds you have been healed.” Yes, these are the ordeals, the pains and also, the qualities of a good shepherd. In spite of all these, a good shepherd offers everything for the sake of his flock leaving out nothing. He does not believe in half measures. Instead, he believes the Latin adage which says: “Aut optimuim, aut nihil (it is either all or nothing).” We must imitate Christ the good shepherd who dared the devil in order to save us. We must say like Jean, “I will.” Lord, let me take care of the sick, the orphans, the weak, the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed; let me fight and foster their course, let me be their light, their hope, their pride and their shepherd. As good shepherds, we must remain focused in order to aspire to, acquire, and accomplish the task given to us by Christ our chief shepherd. Each one of us has a responsibility towards someone. If we must succeed, we must not abandon our duty posts to the detriment of our flock. Today’s celebration reminds us that we ought to be contrasts to most “mundane shepherds” of our time who exploit their flock, and feed fat with their wives (“the cows of Bashan as Amos 4, 1 refers to them) and their children on the resources God generously made available for everyone, while their flock grow thinner and thinner. Such leaders are like dogs that feast on the bone with which they were decorated (nkita n’ata Okpukpu anyawara ya n’olu).”
In the gospel, Jesus points out more qualities of the good shepherd: “…The one who enters through the gate is the good shepherd of the flock… the sheep hear his voice… he calls his own sheep and leads them…the sheep follow because he knows his voice.” How do we approach those under us, our subordinates, workers, juniors, maids, wards, cooks, gardeners, drivers, office assistants, congregation, parishioners, students, etcetera? Are we like “the terror of the ocean” to them? What is their disposition towards us, and ours towards them, do they flee or become frigid when we are around? What Jesus teaches us here in addition to directing us to himself as the gate is that, we need to build a good relationship with our flock, a relationship based on love, trust, mutual respect, and above all, a Christ-centered relationship that drives away all fears. Above all, each of us must make Christ the shepherd of our soul. This simply means getting attuned to his voice through the scriptures, the teachings of the Church’s Magisterium, the Traditions of the church, and other forms of divine revelations approved by the church. To be truly the sheep of the Lord’s flock, we must listen to him. We must also trust in the ability of Jesus our good shepherd much more than we trust in the ability of our earthly pilots, captains, and drivers to take us to our destination. He never fails because he is an expert in the business of shepherding. Our business is to follow him, while his, is to lead us on kindly and gently along the difficult terrains of life. He knows the terrain we walk and are about to walk because, he himself has walked it. He knows when to put us on his shoulders like kids, when to take us by the hand like little children in order to drag us through the rough edges of life, and also, when to let us alone just for a jiffy, so that we can acquire some shepherding experience. Most importantly, he knows when to pamper as well as trash us, all for the good of our souls.
Coming closer when we hear his voice means drawing closer and closer to life, whereas, drifting away from him endangers our life. This is because, out there is the devil, the thief and devourer who is ever ready to prey on our souls. This is why Peter as a good shepherd, warns us before hand: “Be alert…the devil is prowling like a wounded Lion looking for whom to devour” (1Pt 5, 8). We are in a perilous time. So, just as not all that call Lord, Lord are genuine disciples, also, it is not all that beckon us “come, come”, are true shepherds. The good shepherd cares, nurtures, trashes gently with a godly intent. He beckons us: “Come unto me all you (my sheep) who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 1, 28). On the contrary, the ill-mannered shepherd and crafty wolf bruises, crushes, and feeds on his flock. So, let us make the risen Christ our shepherd because, if we do, “there is nothing we shall want, and surely, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life (Ps 23, 1.6). Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Peace be with you all!!