Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. The goodshepherd lays dawn his life for the sheep" (Jn 10:11).Homily:4th Sunday of Easter: Jesus, the good shepherd
Let us make use of the wonderful image of the good shepherd and analyze it in depth. Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd and suggests that we are the sheep.
But what does a good shepherd do?
The good shepherd calls the sheep by their name. In Jesus' time, the sheep of a village were kept in a common fold, whence each shepherd would call out his own sheep and lead them away to pasturage. The good shepherd knows their sheep and knows what they need. He knows how to lead them and how to keep them alive.
Please note that in the Bible's language "to know someone" is something more than an intellectual capability and it goes beyond mere recognition or comprehension. In the holy Scriptures, to know a person is to be intimately related to them, to be associated or connected with them, to be deeply familiarized with or to have a close relationship with them, to be engaged to them or committed to their life. In fact, this verb is used several times in the Bible to refer to marriage relationships and St John uses it to refer to God's attitude towards mankind. To know someone means, therefore, to love her/him.
"The good shepherd knows their sheep". This peculiar knowledge allows him to call the sheep successfully. When he calls them, they will respond and follow him. He knows them, he is intimately related to them and he is deeply familiarized with and committed to their life. In fact, his life is radically associated with them. He knows where to take them, how to protect them and how to keep them together. He knows the flock so well that he can call each sheep by its own name. He is so committed to the sheep's lives that he will give his own life for them.
So when Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd, he is firstly meaning that he knows/loves us, that he calls us by our name to be part of his folk, that he is going to take care of us, to feed us, to keep us together and that he is laying down his life for us (he laid it down on the cross and he is laying down his Easter life for us every day). He won't abandon us as the hired shepherd often abandons the sheep when his life is at risk. Instead, as the "good" shepherd, he is deeply familiarized with his sheep. As a human being, he knows who we really are and what kind of life we seriously need. As the Son of God, he is able to grant us such a life.
And how do the sheep behave?
On the other hand, the sheep, then, won't follow other shepherds, strangers they couldn't trust. But in the case of the good shepherd, they will follow him even to death. First, because they do trust him and the food and life he is able to provide them with. Second, because they receive everything "from" him and will therefore give everything "for" him too.
My grandfather had a farm in the Patagonia, located in the south of Argentina, a suitable place to raise sheep. I've heard, therefore, a lot of stories about shepherds and sheep. The sheep are peaceful, gently and friendly animals. They are usually obedient too. Where the shepherd takes them, they just stay there, even if they are in danger or hungry. They wait until the shepherd comes and takes them to another place. They trust their shepherd.
Some rationalist people think that because of this, the sheep are silly animals. But we can assure, instead, that they are more intelligent than other animals. As the sheep have no sense of orientation at all, they need to trust somebody who may take them to a safe place. Furthermore, as the sheep do not have enough strength or physical abilities to fight for their survival, they trust somebody else who may defend them from their enemies and feed them. Quite clever, don't you think so?
The sheep, therefore, are animals which live together in a flock. This is an important reference. If Jesus wants us to be his folk, we should therefore work hard to learn the best way of living together. The sheep are peaceful, gently and friendly. Aren't these magnificent attitudes that could guide us to live together, to live in a community, to live in communion with others? Aren't these attitudes needed in our warlike and controversial world?
The sheep realize that in order to be protected, fed and orientated they need a good shepherd to guide them; a shepherd who knows them so well that he could take them to the life for which they have been born. Hence, and to continue with this analogy, we should realize, as human beings, that to reach the life for which we were created, a profoundly human life, we need someone who knows the way and who is able to take us there: Jesus. When Jesus and the values of the kingdom he brought are not taken into account, then we should expect nothing but disorientation and confusion.
The sheep trust the good shepherd as we should trust good leaders. As the flock needs the shepherd to lead them in their ordinary lives, we also as human beings need good social, religious and political leaders to lead us. As the sheep, we need to trust somebody that could take us to a safer place, a world in which every single sheep/person could have a place to eat and live. But how could we trust leaders that are more like hired shepherds, leaders who don't know us, who are not seriously committed to human development, who don't care about community life, who are not willing to give all their best to help us? How could we trust a priest or a father who is a pedophile? How could we trust a banker who is a thief? How could we trust a politician when greed instead of service is his main value?
Let me give you a concrete example. In England, we are now discussing the MPs' incomes while the economy of the world is collapsing. We are discussing if the MPs can have a second job while billions of people in the world don't have even a part-time job. This certainly does not help us trust our leaders.
The mission: to become shepherds ourselves
Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, we pray for our religious vocations, so that we can have better and more saintly religious leaders. But we also pray for leadership in general and for our special leadership in particular.
According to the second reading, we are more than Jesus' flock: we are "children of God" who are to "be like him." This means that we are not only sheep who hear our Good Shepherd's voice, but we also are to become shepherds ourselves. Transformed from sheep to shepherd, we take up the life he has laid down. The image of the Good Shepherd is not only a promise of divine care and protection; it is also a call to Christian mission. Our mission, therefore, is to develop good leaders in our church and good leaders in our world. Wouldn't the consequences be monumental with good leaders ruling us?