The Good Shepherd
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - July 22, 2018 - 12:00am

Bible Reading for the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Mark 6: 30-34

When Alfred Nobel’s brother, Ludwig, died, someone mistakenly wrote an obituary about Alfred, emphasizing his wealth and calling him the “dynamite king.” When Alfred read it, he decided that he wanted to be known for something more beneficial to the human family. When he died in 1896, his will set aside money and established the Nobel prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and international peace.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah criticizes Judah’s political and religious leaders for being selfish – looking after their own interests and neglecting the flock entrusted to them. 

The condemnation also speaks to us today. It speaks to the corrupt officials today who are getting filthy rich at the expense of the hardship of our countrymen, especially the poor.

The Gospel reading shows Jesus acting as a compassionate shepherd taking the apostles away for a needed rest and yet ready to teach the people himself although he was also tired, because the people were “like sheep without a shepherd.”

In a largely urban and democratic society today, the term “shepherd” seems inappropriate.  Most of the city folks have not seen any sheep except the ones in the zoo, much less met or seen a shepherd except in the movies.

The image of shepherds in the Church reminds us of the era of a sharp dividing line between bishops viewed as paternalistic princes, priests as fathers, and the people in the pews viewed as children in a rural setting and called the poor, “simple, faithful.”

Back in biblical times shepherds and sheep have quite an intimate relationship. The shepherd would know each one of the sheep by name as well as their characteristics and peculiarities. The sheep would recognize their shepherd’s voice. 

Paraphrasing the words of Pope Francis, “The shepherds smelled like sheep.” A shepherd would risk his life protecting the sheep from bandits and wild animals. And if any of the sheep is lost, the shepherd would not rest until he has found the lost one, or at least bring evidence that it had been killed by wild beasts. 

That’s why Jesus could describe himself as the Good Shepherd. The shepherd image can be translated into non-rural, contemporary terms. 

When parish priests and bishops are called “pastors” or shepherds, they are expected to look after the best interests of their flock, the people entrusted to them, rather than their own personal benefits and comfort. They should be deeply concerned with helping their people to mature in their faith until they realize that all of us are Church, that all of us are at least at times called to be pastors, if we respect others and believe in them.

Being “pastoral” does not mean that one rules people as though they were dumb sheep, an unthinking flock to be led by the nose, and lorded over.  In a human society “pastoral” means helping to liberate and empower all members of one’s community to the challenges of shepherding others. 

Because we have been baptized and share Jesus’ life as priest, prophet, and king, we too are shepherds. 

As members of the Body of Christ, we are all responsible for one another. We are our brother’s keepers and have to be shepherds to one another, as parents, teachers, members of a parish organization, or simply as Christians, each in his own sphere of life and with his own contribution to make.

To reflect the image of the Good Shepherd, we must follow the rhythm of the Christian life suggested by today’s Gospel reading. The Christian life is a continuous going to the presence of God from the presence of men. And coming out into the presence of men from the presence of God. 

It is something like the rhythm of sleep and work. We cannot work unless we have our time to rest, and sleep will not come unless we have worked until we are tired.

There are two dangers in life. First is the danger of a too constant activity. No man can work without rest; and no man can live a Christian life unless he gives himself time to be with God.

It may well be that the whole trouble in our lives is that we give God no opportunity to speak to us, because we do not know how to be still and to listen. We give God no time to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength, because there is no time when we wait upon Him. 

How can we shoulder life’s burden if we have no contact with Him, who is the Lord of all good life? How can we do God’s work unless we seek Him in the silence of our prayers?

During the activism days, one activist student said to me, “I don’t go to Mass on Sundays. I go to the masses.” 

“Well.” I said, “If you don’t go to Mass, what can you offer to the masses? Where will you lead them?”

The second danger is that of too much withdrawal. A devotion that does not lead to service is not genuine devotion. Prayer that does not lead to work is not real prayer, but an escape from responsibilities.

Some people spend so many hours in the church with loads and loads of novena booklets. They pray to practically all the Saints in the Church’s calendar. Yet, when they go home, they start scolding and cursing their drivers and housemaids, and yayas.  They indulge in their favorite pasttime of tsismis against their neighbors.

We must never seek the presence of God in order to escape the presence of men, but rather in order to prepare ourselves better for people. 

The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving men in the market place.

One young man told me his realization in prayer.  He says, “The other day as I was praying to encounter Christ, I realized that Christ is in the people around me – in the maids, in the driver, in my family members, the people I encounter.” 

That kind of realization in prayer will certainly cause a change in the attitude and relationship of the pray-er with the people around him.

As Christians, we are called to be contemplative in action, men and women with a spirituality of caring for others. Ask the Lord, “Who are your flocks? And who are your sheep?” And begin to shepherd them, to empower them to be Church.

GOOD SHEPHERD
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