Nice Shepherd? Good Shepherd! 4th Sunday of Easter

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Jonjee C. Sumpaico, S.J. () - April 29, 2012 - 12:00am

The young Jesuits in the Philippines — those ordained or missioned the last five years and below — meet yearly to share stories and learn from each other. It is a practice that has been done for quite some time as it has opened the horizons of each one and has engaged each member with a shared direction in ministry. They met in Cagayan de Oro this week and I was privileged to sit down with them, observe, and listen to what they had to say. And true enough, I was able to pick up something worth reflecting on for this Sunday’s readings.

During one of the sessions, one young priest recalled how the announcement of his ordination assignment was said. He remembered the words mentioned by the provincial superior, “I am sending you to the people of…” It was clear to him that he was being sent not just to a place, but rather to a people!

Each one in that group had the same experience of being sent. These young men have been sent to the people of the New Bilibid Prisons, to the people of the Philippine General Hospital, to the people of Bukidnon, East Timor, Cambodia, and even to the people of the different Ateneo schools. And this being sent on mission has made a great difference in their life’s journeys.

The mission that they have accepted is not primarily their own. It is a mission that can be traced to the invitation that has been given us as the Gospel reading of today tells us- a reading about the good shepherd. Though there is no actual sheep involved in the various Jesuit missions, these men have been sent to a mission that still involves a flock — of people. It is a mission that continually challenges each one to appreciate and imitate the loving value that the Good Shepherd exemplifies.

The good shepherd is ready to lay down his life for his sheep.A good shepherd holds dear his flock ; his focus remains on the care of his own. On the other hand, a hired shepherd may show a different attitude as the flock that he tends to is not his own. He is focused on himself and his concern for the flock is not a priority. This may be an important point to consider. At the end of the day, one may be able to discover an honest-to-goodness evaluation of where one is as he looks at the motivations of his actions.

Perhaps we may direct this to questions like the following: Have my actions been directed towards the benefit of myself? Or have they been directed towards the people that have been entrusted to me? Following the example of good shepherd will therefore entail a constant examination and reflection on where one stands.

The good shepherd knows his sheep. There is a certain felt connection between the flock and its shepherd. The sheep know the shepherd because the shepherd made himself known to the sheep through the daily grind of everyday actions. Trust has been built in the relationship. Though people do not go out to pasture like sheep, we may learn from the good shepherd to be present always to those around us. The presence that we give is an assurance of “I am here,” “You are not alone,” and “We are together.”

Have I shared my own person through my daily actions with the people around me? Do I authentically help build up a community of trust? Do my daily actions give reassurances that my presence inspires the team to be one?

The good shepherd leads his sheep. The words “good” and “nice” are very much different. In Filipino, “good” means mabuti and “nice” means mabait. The good shepherd leads his sheep. And true leaders know that sometimes, one may have to use the rod and the staff to make things right. The good shepherd knows when to give guidance and correction along the way. He knows that when he does this, it benefits his flock. As power is given to those who are sent, striking a balance between firmness and kindness may take a while to learn. Eventually, the flock will know who is a good shepherd and who is just a nice one.

Do I just try to be nice to everyone so that I may not “rock the boat” and be popular to everyone? On the other hand, am I always out to punish every wrongdoing so that people may know that I am boss? Am I open enough to challenge myself to learn that being good entails a looking into one’s practice of firmness and kindness?

I am quite certain that the young Jesuits I mentioned at the start constantly think about the manner they shepherd their flock through these past years. I am sure that they constantly try to examine themselves how they are sent to God’s people.

But the call to follow the example of the Good Shepherd does not fall only on the shoulders of those who lead. It is a call for everyone to respond to. The flock is a team where everyone works. Not all may be leaders, but all are part of one flock. And the flock moves as one. Shepherds lead. Sheep do follow. But shepherd and sheep do listen to each other as they are one.

May we continue to search for Jesus in our lives. Let us continue to beg for the grace that he be our model in our every thought, word, and action. May we always strive to listen to and follow Jesus, our Good Shepherd — for he leads us to everlasting life.

Let me end by sharing the lyrics of the song composed by the late Fr. Eddie Hontiveros, S.J., Saan Kami Tutungo.

Saan kami tutungo, kaming makasalanan?

Saan kami susulong, dahas laging kapisan?

Ikaw, Hesus, ang susundan. Ikaw, Poon, and hantungan.

Sino kayang uusig sa di makatarungan?

Sino kayang lulupig, sakim na umiiral?

Sa sinumang sa Diyos mulat, katarungang magbubuhat.

Kaloob Mong talino, atas Mo’y pagyamanin,

Sa pakikihamok, lagi naming gamitin.

Karahasa’y pipiitin, kamalia’y tutuwirin.

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