The Good Shepherd
GUIDING LIGHT - Thom Schultz (The Freeman) - April 22, 2018 - 12:00am

Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep knows me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Why the difference between a hired hand, and the good shepherd?

For the hired hand, taking care of the sheep is just a job, a source of income – money is the reason he is there.  Therefore, when danger comes, the safety of the flock is not his priority.  His own safety is.  The flock is just a job – nothing personal.  He can always look for another.

The good shepherd has developed a personal close relationship with his flock.  He loves and cares for his flock.  He has come to know his flock – their lovable characteristics, as well as those unpredictable behaviors that challenge his patience.  The sheep also are so familiar with their shepherd, that they recognize his voice, and the way he acts, so that they would follow only him.

The Good Shepherd loves each one of his flock so much that he would risk and sacrifice his life to protect it.  Money is not the question.  It is the love relationship. And this can develop only with regular close contact with the flock.  That’s why Pope Francis told the spiritual pastors to “smell like sheep.” 

The danger today is that so many people behave more like hirelings than good shepherds.  Money is the all-powerful consideration in our choices.  Some people say, “Money talks.”  “Everything has a price.”

This is the secret why gambling is such a profitable business. Dishonesty, graft and corruption, and criminal activities no longer bother the conscience of many people.  People dream of acquiring a fortune overnight, the desire for “biglang yaman.”

Wealth has many undeniable advantages.  That is why people dream of becoming rich.  But on the other hand, wealth has great inconveniences.  And one of these is to believe that money can buy everything or at least that it is an acceptable substitute for almost everything. 

Once I met somebody in Washington D.C., whom I suspected of being connected with the Mafia, who told me that someday he was going to buy his way to heaven!  Lots of upper class people think that everything has a price – even heaven. 

How much “lagay” do you have to give St. Peter?  Well, there are things in life that no amount of money in the world can buy.  Take for example, the area of education and bringing up children.  And I don’t mean just getting a diploma.  The children of rich people are placed in the best schools, eat the best food, receive the best medical attention, are given the best of everything that money can buy. 

And yet, it is often the rich kids, who have the worse psychological problems, who end up as drug addicts and juvenile delinquents. 

Why is this so?  Most of the time, it is because they are given everything except what they need most: their parents’ time, presence and affection. 

These children grow up in the care of their “yayas” or paid nurses, paid cooks and house boys and labanderas, paid tutors and school teachers.  They spend their leisure time watching television, and playing video games.  Their parents, if they are not separated and living with somebody else, have very busy social lives, with little time to give to their children.

And so, they discharge their duties by hiring people to take care of their children for them.  These hired people will usually do the work for which they are paid, honestly and conscientiously, but no more than that.  What will be lacking most of the time in their relationship with their young charges will be that affection which only parents can give.

And they cannot be blamed for this lack.  After all, they cannot feel for the children of strangers what they feel for their own children.

And whatever the amount of money given them for their time, their work and their competence, that money can never buy their hearts.  And so, once they have performed their job, they take their salary and go home to their own loved ones.  Their duty is measured in hours per day and days per week.  It is determined by a contract.

In other words, they are hired to perform a certain kind of work and when they have done their work, they have fulfilled their part of the contract.

But we all know that children’s needs go much more than that.  When a child is sick, it will require its mother’s attention almost constantly day and night.  A paid nurse can go home after eight hours of work and consider that she has done her duty. 

But a mother’s duty is never measured in terms of hours, payment and contract.  She will not count the number of hours spent at the bedside of her sick child. 

Likewise, a father will not consider that he has fulfilled his duty when he has worked his eight hours to earn the livelihood of the family. 

He will also spend any amount of time helping his children with their homework,              listening to their problems, playing with them, teaching them some useful hobby, taking them out for a picnic, and so forth.  Love does not measure what it gives.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus presents himself as our shepherd.  And he sets a big difference between being a good shepherd and a mere hired hand.  The latter, because he is motivated by his pay and not by love, will do his job but no more than that. 

If he is called to do more than that, for example, to face an attacking wolves, he will simply run away.  This is not unexpected.  After all, his main interest is his pay, not the safety of the sheep. 

The good shepherd, on the other hand is concerned with the safety of the sheep before all else.  This is so true that, if need be he will endanger his life in defending them against wolves and thieves.  Love does not measure what it gives.

The Greek word used by the Johannine author does not mean simply to “lay down” or “give up.”  Its essential meaning is “to give, to place, to put.”  Hence, it is equally a sign of love and commitment on the part of the shepherds to give their lives, the living of their lives, the vital functioning of their lives, for their sheep.

By the very nature of their profession, shepherds had to be faithful people, constantly with their flocks.  There were no days off.  The sheep instinctively sensed that they could depend on the shepherd in any crisis.

Hired substitutes just did not function in the same way.  They didn’t give their lives because they just couldn’t love the sheep in the same way that the real shepherd did.

This last characteristic of the good shepherd love for his sheep is found in Jesus in the highest degree.  He not only risked his life for us, he laid down his life for us.  And that is the kind of service that can never be paid for, because love cannot be bought.  It can only be received gratefully.

Jesus is not only our Good Shepherd.   He also invites us to be good shepherds to others under our care, whether it be as parents, as teachers, as big brothers and sisters, as office co-workers. 

We must examine our attitudes, motivations and behavior in our relationship to work and people.  Are we there only to work for pay, or are we doing what we are doing because it is our profession what we are trained for or good at, or do we look at our work as a vocation a call and opportunity to love and care for the people entrusted to us?

This applies in a special way to our public officials.  Do they look at the position and office that people entrusted to them as a break to get rich motivated mainly by money and greed, or they are in office because they are “professional politicians,” part of a political dynasty, or do they feel that they are called to serve the people, to lay down their lives for the good of the people, either spending their lives or laying down their lives for the people?

For us Christians, the Eucharist is by definition of terms our “thank you” to God our Father for having given us such a good shepherd in Jesus Christ.  It is also a commitment to respond to God’s and Christ’s great love for us by being good shepherds to others.

May each Eucharist help us to follow more faithfully the One who is leading us to the pastures of eternal life.

SHEPHERD
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