Once upon a time, there lived a man who had eight sons. He was a rich man at the time and one of his sources of wealth was his large herd of sheep. One day, he called his sons together and told them that he needed one of them to manage the herd of sheep because the people he employed were not doing well in taking care of the sheep and protecting them from wild animals. Some of the lambs were getting sick and a good number had died on account of insufficient care. After explaining the situation to the sons, they started giving excuses as to why they would not be responsible for the sheep starting from the first son.
The declaration of excuses continued from the first son to the second and others in their succession until it came to the eighth and last son. The man was already feeling disappointed with his sons as none of them was ready to take up the task of managing his herd of sheep. Most of them were interested in joining the army and the rest wanted to start the trading of precious stones and jewelleries across the borders. “If the elder ones are not able to do this work would this young one do it?” The man thought as the youngest stood up to make his own declaration. “Father, I am ready and willing to take care of the herd of sheep. You did the same for your father and I will do so for you and for the good of the flock!” Everyone was silent when the little boy finished and his father rose from where he was sitting and embraced him and also blessed him.
Everyday, the little boy would arise early in the morning, when the mist was in the air and the dew wet upon the ground and his brothers slept. He would quickly go out and check on the condition of the flock, making sure that none was missing and that they fared well in the night. Thereafter, he would lead the flock to pasture in green areas he had discovered. Sometimes he would walk ahead of the sheep to show them a new trail to the new pastures. In the heat of the day, he would lead them to a cool stream where they could have their thirst satisfied. It was here that he carefully dug a trench for them to drink, for he knew the sheep were fearful of running water, needing a place of quiet and still water. Most times however, he would walk behind them, making sure that no wild animal attacked them from the rear. He aided the very young and tender ones by carrying them when the journey became long and tedious. He was compassionate, loving, caring and committed to the flock. He even developed personal connection with each and every one of them and gave them personal names. Whenever they heard his voice they responded to his directives either to move or to stop. When anyone of them wandered away, he took time to look for it and to bring it back.
One day, the little boy went out with the flock as usual. They went deeper into the wild to look for greener pasture as the grasses and stream in their usual pasture were drying up. Suddenly they came to an area with all green grasses and there was a stream also. It was awesome and the herd took time to eat, drink and lie by the side of the still water to rest. The young boy also took time to eat his lunch and thereafter dozed off to sleep. After some time, he was startled by a loud noise and opening his years he saw a lion advancing towards the herd as they started dispersing to various directions.
The natural thing to do was to run or hide. But the little boy remembered how precious the herd were to him and to his father and he went after the lion. When the lion saw the boy it turned around and charged at him. The boy stood firm and looking up he called on God to save him and to the save the herd. Suddenly he felt within himself am amazing strength. With that he bounced on the lion and with his bare hands he strangled it to death. However, when he got home he refused to tell anyone because he felt that his father would stop him from attending to the herd; a duty he grew to love and appreciate. Another time, a wolf attacked the herd he killed it and yet another time it was a lion and he killed it with his bare hands.
Many years after, the little boy eventually became the king of their land. He was famous for his gallantry, thoughtfulness and wisdom. Among others, he wrote this wonderful prayer and poem to God:
The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in right path. For His name sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley;
I fear no evil, for You are with me.
Your rod and your staff; they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me;
all the days of my life.
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
My whole life long.
(Psalm 23 of King David).
Today being the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we are invited to reflect on one of the outstanding qualities of our risen Lord; namely, the quality of being the Good Shepherd. It is remarkable to note that in the bible, God is always appointing shepherds into leadership positions: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Saul, David, Amos, Ezekiel and so many others. This is strictly based on the fact that God is essentially our Shepherd. ((Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34:11-15). Hence God would expect those who He has called and commissioned to function as shepherds.
The First Reading (Acts 13:43-44, 47-48), tells us about the apostolic activity of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, They faced opposition especially from the Jews, but like the little David who had to battle with wild animals, they did not give up in instructing the flock. One of the rare qualities of a good shepherd is steadfastness in the face of challenges within the flock. A good shepherd is not intimidated by challenges but he is rather enhanced by them. Your simple acts of care and love could possibly give you a leadership role. Whenever you show light to anyone in darkness you are a shepherd, whenever you put a smile on the face of someone you are a shepherd, whenever you give someone reason to live, you are a shepherd. Whenever you preach the word of God by words or by actions, you are a shepherd.
In the Gospel Reading (John 10:27-30), our Lord Jesus Christ gave a remarkable response to the Jews who wanted to know if he was the messiah they were expecting. In his response, our Lord Jesus Christ indicated that they do not believe that he is the Messiah much as he had said it earlier and their unbelief is anchored on the fact that they do not belong to his sheepfold. Here he brought in the Sheep / Shepherd motif which is central in biblical pedagogy.
Our Lord had already established, and absolutely too, that he is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11; 14). We can now see where the Jews who were questioning him were coming from. They were conversant with the identities of the messiah (Is.1:1-5) and they could see them happening around our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord answered them by bringing out one of the qualities of the messiah which has to do with the act of leading the people in the manner of the ideal good shepherd.
To answer the Jews more aptly, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Messiah is the Good Shepherd who has a sheepfold consisting of those who believe in him. There is only one Good Shepherd and that is why it is clearly stated with the definite article “THE GOOD SHEPHERD”. There could be many shepherds that may be good in one way or the other but there is only one who is completely good in all things; our Lord Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd.
When our Lord in the interlocution with the Jews mentioned that they do not belong to his sheepfold, he was directly saying that he is a shepherd because it is only a shepherd that could boast of a sheepfold. A shepherd is one who takes care of a herd of sheep by guarding, feeding and protecting them. In the Jewish society of the time of Jesus, shepherding is known to be a very painstaking and serious occupation, just as we can identify in the story of the young boy whom we later came to understand to be David. Usually at that time, sheep are kept for their wool and milk more than for their meat; it is only on special occasions that they are feasted upon (Luke 15:23). On account of this, most sheep stay for a very long time with the shepherd to the extent that a strong bond is established between them; some are even given personal names.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who knows the sheep, who provides for them, who keeps them together, who protects them and even laid down his life for them. It will be proper for us today to look at how we reflect our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, in our lives. We need to mirror the Good Shepherd as we are already told by our Lord Jesus Christ to be perfect as our heaven father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). In another place he also challenged us to learn from him for he is meek and humble (Matt.11:29).
Often parents, caregivers, teachers, superiors, bosses, religious leader (priests and others) forget or are not attentive to the fact that they are meant to be not just shepherds but good ones. At home parents are the shepherds and the children are the sheep; this is the ideal situation; though in some homes now the reverse has become the case. Parents are expected to shepherd more by good examples than by those instructions that do not resonate with their lives. Teachers are meant to teach not just by words but also by fruitful actions. Religious leaders at various levels are meant to lead the flock to God and not to the devil and evil; they meant to tend the flock and not to tamper with them.
If we anticipate good shepherds there is also need for good sheep. Everyone of us is a sheep under the Good Shepherd. Just as we acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd and expect him to remain that, we are also expected to be good sheep. This we can achieve by first paying attention to the Good Shepherd. Our Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that the sheep that belongs to him listens to his voice (John 10:27).
Furthermore, the sheep is expected to follow the Good Shepherd and this presupposes unquestioning obedience. A typical instance was when Simon Peter and others left their boats and other things and followed Jesus (Matt.4:19). Finally, there is need for the sheep to reflect the unity initiated by the Good Shepherd by bringing the sheep together in one fold. On account of this our Lord prayed: “Father may they all be one as we are one” (John 17:21),
Apart from God, we also find ourselves under various shepherds like parents, teachers, caregivers, superiors, bosses, religious leaders and others. Beginning from our families, children are expected to pay attention to their parents and also to obey them. In the recent guideline on marriage, Pope Francis instructed that children should be taught and learn to say: “Please”, “thank you” and “sorry”. Students under various teacher should be open to learn and accept the formation they are given. The sheep under various authorities be it religious or secular should respect such authorities bearing in mind the words of St. Paul to the Romans (13:1 ) that all authority comes from God.
Following the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, is entirely for our own good. The Second Reading today (Rev. 7:9-17) tells us where the Good Shepherd is leading us to. The first verse from the passage says:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.(Rev.7:9).
From the foregoing, we understand that the Good Shepherd is leading us to a permanent pasture which is the kingdom of heaven. May we then be ready and willing to follow the Good Shepherd who will lead us into everlasting life. Like Tabitha may we also become for others that shepherd with positive influence.
Have a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead.