In order to treasure the awesome significance of this simple, yet most revealing statement, we ought to limit the analogy to the image of a shepherd which an innocent child would have. Compelled by the realism imposed by life itself, we do not want to dwell on the fact that in countries where shepherds are still real people, they raise sheep for a profit.
The most benevolent aspect of such profit is usually wool and milk. But, eventually, sheep would have to lose their life and be sold as meat for human consumption. In the innocent eyes of a child, a shepherd can still be benevolent and noble. In this case, the revelation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is not only possible but enlightening and inspiring as well.
From what he tells us about himself, we can list the following aspects in the Good Shepherd’s nature…
- He is so devoid of self-interest that, unlike a hired man, he is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. In other words, far from raising sheep for personal profit, he does so out of boundless love and willingness to be up for the ultimate self-sacrifice. It is a self-sacrifice that was proven true 2000 years ago during the Last Supper in a symbolic way and, in a bloody way on Golgotha, the following day.
- The Good Shepherd establishes an intimate, unbreakable bond with his sheep. He knows them each by name.
- The Good Shepherd leads his sheep to abundant pastures and refreshing waters.
- The Good Shepherd longs to expand his fold to include many, many more sheep to form one fold under one shepherd.
There are, of course, many other aspects which would enrich our image of the Good Shepherd; but these are the ones mentioned in the Gospel passage (John 10:11-18) that we are considering today.
Now, in real time, presently, how is Jesus showing that he is indeed the Good Shepherd?
Let me remind you of what I have been telling you for the longest time: we, his sheep within the Catholic Church, are blessed enough to see and experience this wonderful reality in physical fashion.
A bishop’s staff is called “crozier” but it is always supposed to be a physical sign pointing to the fact that our bishops are the true representation of the Good Shepherd down the millennia so that the makings of the Good Shepherd that Jesus reveals in this Gospel passage are made always available to us in physical form. A bishop’s staff should be made of a tree branch curved at the upper extremity like a shepherd’s staff or made in such a way as to closely resemble it. The bishops are the successors of the first 12 disciples. From the Bishop of Rome (Pope) successor of Simon Peter, down to the last bishop of an obscure mission land, one and all Catholic bishops can trace their ordination all the way back to the Twelve. Now, since some Catholics like to shop around and might want to be selective as far as obedience and acceptance of Catholic teachings are concerned, let me point out that, in our case, Jesus the Good Shepherd, has chosen our particular bishop and his assistants to shepherd us. Period.
Luke 10:16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
Again, limiting our consideration to what Jesus reveals to us today, we should expect our local bishops to present to us directly and through priests lawfully assigned to our particular diocese, the extent of Jesus’ love for us and elicit from us, time and again, our willingness to become love-filled and love-driven sheep ourselves. More concretely, more clearly, our priests and bishops should preach to us about the love of Jesus and how our destiny of being like God, of being love ourselves, requires our constant effort to free ourselves of selfishness and also readiness to love each other the way Jesus loved us in the Upper Room and on the Cross.
Furthermore, our priests and bishops should help us recognize the voice of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures by giving us the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church and also help us develop a personal relationship with Jesus that would enable us to remain faithful to him and to his Church. Our priests and bishops should try their very best to feed Jesus, the Bread that came down from heaven, to their flock and to lead their flock to the refreshing springs of grace especially in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and of the Eucharist. Feeding Jesus to the flock entrusted to them entails for priests and bishops to have a deep knowledge of God’s Word; live It out daily with sincerity of heart and to proclaim It with enthusiasm and boldness. To focus their efforts only on the sacramental aspects of feeding their flock would result in spiritual stagnation in those who are called to bear the fruits of the Spirit for the glory of God and the good of his Church.
Finally, to bring to fulfillment Jesus’ ardent desire, all priests and bishops should fill themselves with missionary zeal to expand the size of the fold to include everyone. For this final aspect of good shepherding to succeed, not only priests and bishops, but the whole community needs to believe, worship, think, act and react as one. Those who do not yet belong to Jesus’ fold will be attracted to; will begin to consider becoming part of and work towards that desirable goal only if the Community is joyful, unselfish, loving and acting of one’s accord.
So far, we have seen mostly what is expected of those appointed by the Good Shepherd to continue his mission on earth. But what is expected of the sheep? We have just to listen to Simon Peter, the first Pope. He calls for a simple and exclusive choice.
Acts 4:12 There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
We are not enlightened, guided, taught and saved by some dissenting theologians, or some rebellious nuns, or some politically correct trends, but by the Good Shepherd alone. Through the shepherds who continue his mission, we the sheep, can find in Jesus nourishment, life, loving care and unity. As this choice is repeated daily, with a conscious deliberation, we gradually increase our knowledge of him; we fall more deeply in love of him; and we continue to bask in the comforting reality of his presence.