On Friday, March 23, 2018, LT. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, a French Military Police officer, traded places with a hostage during a police standoff with a gunman at a supermarket in Paris. The following day, March 24, the eve of the Passion Sunday, the officer died because of the injuries he sustained during the gun battle; the hostage survived the attack. The heroic act attracted the attention of Pope Francis who described the heroic action as a desire to protect people following the officer’s understanding of sacrifice as a practising Catholic.
This story resonates with the essential mentality of the good shepherd in the Gospel Reading today (Jn.10:11-18), the laying down of life for the sheep (John 10:11). The Easter season we are celebrating is the fruit of the self-giving sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life for the forgiveness of our sins (Gal. 1:4). The fundamental difference between the owner of the sheep and a hired hand is that the owner pledges his life for the sheep, but the hired hand runs away in the face of challenges (John 10:12-13).
Col. Arnaud followed the example of Christ by dying so that someone he did not know personally could live. What a powerful way to serve the people with love. Before his passion and death, our Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “there is no greater love than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). To be a shepherd, one needs to entirely be at the service of the sheep even to the cost of the shepherd’s life.
When we hear about shepherds, we often think about the priests and religious, and we are right to feel that way. However, all the baptized who share in the royal priesthood of Christ are called to be shepherds at various level. When you are performing your duty as a parent (dad or mom), you are shepherding. When there are students you are leading formally or informally; you are a shepherd. Whenever and wherever people look up to you for anything, you are a shepherd; to whom much is given much is expected (Luke 12:48).
Laying down your life must not always follow the route of Arnaud in our opening story. Life is very precious, laying down your life could mean giving up something that is very precious to you for the benefit of the sheep. It could be dropping your ego to become humble and patient. It could be letting go that anger and resentment when you are derided or even insulted. The vocation to be a shepherd is not jolly ride. Often you don’t get 100% compliance from the sheep; some would often wander away, and the good shepherd seeks out the lost sheep (Luke 15:4)
The problem with some shepherds in our day and age is the hired-hand mentality. This idea has to do with the emphasis on “what is in there for me?” or “what would I benefit from this job?” When we think of shepherding as a job, we focus on benefit, but when we accept it as a vocation, it becomes a service emanating from the love for the sheep.
The sheep, on the other hand, should complement the work of the shepherd; in fact, a good shepherd with bad sheep is a disaster. One of the fundamental obligations of the sheep is to listen and obey the instructions of the good shepherd. In the Gospel of John (10:27) our Lord says, the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. Often, we blame and berate our shepherds, but we fail to think about our attitude to their vocation and the contribution towards their goals.
Today, we remind ourselves that the Lord is our shepherd, that means He is in control of everything about us, but that depends on the extent we allow Him. God would not force Himself on us. Instead, He is available as our provider and provision (Gen. 22:14), He is our protector and protection (Psalm 91:1ff), He leads us through the right path (Psalm 23:3). For these reasons, we shall not lack (Psalm 23:1) because His goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives (Psalm 23:6).
As we celebrate the Good Shepherd Sunday, let us remember to pray for shepherds after God’s heart who would receive the unction to function in God’s vineyard. We also pray to become good shepherds and good sheep at any level we find ourselves. Have a great Sunday and a pleasant week ahead.