Most of the things we do today are the things we learnt from our immediate social environment. Albert Bandura (1977) proposed the social learning theory which till date is the most influential theory of learning and development. According to him people generally and children particularly learn through observing their immediate environment. We are simply the products of our social pedagogy.
Bandura demonstrated the above with an experiment. An adult was asked to play violently with a doll by pummelling it and hitting it with a hammer and other harmful things while a child was allowed to observe. Thereafter the child was allowed to play with the doll and he repeatedly did exactly what the adult did and even more aggressively. In another control experiment another child who did not watch the violent play of the adult was brought in to play with the doll and he was mild and affectionate while playing with the doll. Albert Bandura concluded that people look up to higher models (especially leaders) for learning within the environment.
Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday and from the gospel reading today (John 10:27-30) our Lord Jesus Christ declared among other things that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no one can snatch them from my hand…I and the father are one”. We have a lot to learn from these ponderable words of our Lord. Firstly, by calling us sheep we understand that he is the Shepherd. Of course we understand this from John (10:11) where our Lord said: “I am the Good Shepherd”. Note well, he used the definite article “the”. This simply shows that there is only one ideal shepherd the others are thieves that have come to kill and destroy (John 10:10a).Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Shepherd with a difference because he is so protective of the sheep to the extent that he lays down his life for his sheep against any external aggression (John 10:15).Furthermore, this quality (the good Shepherd) is what our Lord Jesus Christ shares with God the father who is also known as the Shepherd of His people Israel (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34:11-15).
To have a more profound understanding of the image of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, it will be worthwhile to look into the relationship between sheep and Shepherd within the Jewish setting. A herd of sheep is normally under the guidance of a Shepherd. Now the Shepherd can either be the owner of the sheep or a hired hand. The hired hand is usually interested in the pay but the owner who had invested so much on the herd, goes the extra mile to tend the sheep. He has the following characteristics:
1. Individual Knowledge of the Sheep: The Shepherd knows the sheep individually and even call them by personal names. He knows when they are hungry and feed them, he knows when each is sick and attends to it. Simply put everything about the sheep it comprehensively known to the Shepherd. When we relate this to the claim of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that he is indeed the GOOD SHEPHERD PER EXCELLENCE. He knows us personally; Isaiah (49:16) says our names are written on the palms of his hand. He feeds us when we are hungry not only with physical food (Matt.14:13-21), he also feeds us with spiritual food; his body and blood (John 6:54). He is further attentive to us when we are sick physically and spiritually (Matt.9:5-10).
2. Leading the Sheep to Right Spots: It is one thing to lead others and another thing to lead them to the rightful places. Most people are lost today because they were led to the wrong places by those they depended on. A good Shepherd is one who knows the best spots for the sheep and leads them there (Psalm 23:1-2).This is one of the greatest attributes of our Lord Jesus Christ who came to lead us into eternal life (John 12:50).
3. Defending the Shenep: Without a shepherd the herd of sheep is defenceless and susceptible to destruction by enemies. It is thus the work of the shepherd to see to it that the sheep is protected. This is a superlative work of God as we learnt from David (Psalm 23:4) where he says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for there you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me”.
In appropriating this role of the Good Shepherd which he shares with God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel today maintained that no one can snatch the sheep from him (John 10:28). This simply means that he is apt as the Good Shepherd in defending and protecting the sheep. One peculiar thing about our Lord in this role is the fact of laying down his life for the sheep; dying so that the sheep could live (John 15:13).
4. Maintaining Unity Among the Sheep: A discordant Shepherd cannot have a coordinated and united herd. Real unity is not a mechanical act of fixing and re-fixing. It comes from genuine disposition of fellow feeling. The Shepherd sees to it that he is one with the herd and that the herd is also united as a community. On this account our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for unity and oneness among the sheep as he is one with the father (John 17:21). He further anticipated the convergence of all under one herd and one Shepherd (John 10:16).
Often we find ourselves in one way or the other overseeing the affairs of a group as a leader. Faced with such tasks we ask ourselves if we work towards integration of the community and its member under our care and how effectively united is the community under us?
From the point of view of the shepherd we move to acknowledge the expectations from the sheep or if you like those who are led. Good followership makes leadership easier. Often we are destructively critical about those who are leading us while we fail to make conscious effort to do our own part. The will to follow should involve the following:
1. Ability to listen. Our lord Jesus did make it clear that the “sheep that BELONGS to me LISTENS to my VOICE I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). The bane of our spiritual journey had always been our inability to listen to the voice of God. Our world is actually filled with a lot of noise coming from various distractive sources: friends, relations, neighbours, television, telephone, internet and other means of communication in our highly technologized world. To denote the importance of his message our Lord Jesus Christ would often say: “Let him who has ears to listen let him hear” (Mark 4:9; Matt. 13:9).
2. The Ability to Follow. It is one thing to listen and another thing to put what is heard into action. In one of his parables Jesus Christ spoke about the seed that falls by the roadside as representing those who hear the word of God but it does not get to germinate in them (Luke 8:5). God would always like us to be attentive to him as he leads us and not shifting grounds from his ordinances (Joshua 1:7). When we deviate from the Good Shepherd we enter into the wrong hands.
3. Ability to Return after Going Astray: Being a follower is not always an easy task; sometimes we stray from the right path like in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). It is not all about falling away it has also to do with coming back to the right path after straying in the manner of David (2nd Sam.12:1-3).
4. Ability to Maintain Unity with the Shepherd and others: Every follower is a fraction of the whole that makes up the community. There is need for mutuality and unity with the leader and fellow followers. This unity is borne out of love and selflessness.
Coming back to some basic platforms we can identify Shepherds at various segments in the life of our community:
- Parents are Shepherds in their own way. The choices they make can help or hinder good development on the part of their children. The children like little lambs are watching and learning from their parents. Parents should thus be watchful of their actions.
- The government is the Shepherd of the state in their own way much as their authority comes from God (Romans 13:1-2). Their policies and plans should in essence be at the service of growth and development of the state and the citizens.
- Religious leaders are Shepherds in a very special way as they have proximate divine mandate to direct the religious and spiritual well-being of the people. To disengage in this vocation of leading souls to God is detraction from the right path.
We conclude by urging ourselves to be the best we can be wherever and whenever we are called upon to lead or to follow. Furthermore we pray for vocations today asking God to well it up in the minds of younger people in our contemporary human society to be desirous to serve God in various religious capacities so that the work of evangelization will continue and become more effective in our contemporary human society.
Have a blissful Sunday and a blessed week ahead!