The Good Shepherd
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father."
We live in a world where many claim to be shepherds. We’ve got loads of leaders both religious and not, gurus, caretakers, CEOs and visionaries, each claiming to have something good for us, to have our best interests at heart.
However, in our Gospel this Sunday, we hear the Lord make a distinctive claim: "I am the Good Shepherd." There’s no accident to this phrase. Jesus sets the tone, he is the good leader above and beyond all leaders, the mystic beyond all mystics and the chief caretaker of our souls. What sets him apart from the rest? What makes Christ the Good Shepherd?
It’s interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t claim he’s the good shepherd simply because he is God. That would be true, of course. Being God, he is goodness itself. Rather, Christ uses this moment to convey something essential about the nature of God’s goodness: that it is merciful and self-giving love. "The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." We see from the Lord’s description that he knows and is concerned for his flock, providing for their well-being and defending them to the point of self-sacrifice.
As such, Christ sets the tone for true shepherds and leadership, be it spiritual or secular. Real Christian leadership is servant leadership, it leads with love. True shepherding is good shepherding in the mold of Christ. A good shepherd is concerned not just with the production of wool or the earning of a day’s pay or promotions, but rather with care and stewardship. Like Christ, good shepherds and leaders spend themselves in love to enable those in their care to thrive. Good wool comes from good care. Likewise, they have one eye out for protecting the flock from danger, and are not afraid to use their voice to lead the sheep to safety and keep them on the straight and narrow.
This raises a question for those of us in the workforce in the Washington area: When we’re in charge, be it as a boss in a workplace or in a group project or team sport at school, a pastor of a parish or commander in the military, does our leadership look like Christ’s leadership? Do we seek the good of those in our care, or are they merely a means to an end? Are we willing to sacrifice to enable them to succeed? Are we willing to speak out boldly to keep them from harm or to encourage them to greener pastures?
All of this, of course, assumes that we are following and listening to the Good Shepherd himself. Christ says that his sheep know him and that they hear his voice. They follow him even in the darkness of night and storms, or amid the din of many rival shepherds calling. If we’re living the Christian life, the voice of Christ ought to be a homing beacon to us in all seasons. Yet there is only one way in which this is possible, one way the sheep can learn the shepherd’s voice: They must spend time with him and allow themselves to be cared-for. Thus, the above question presupposes prior ones: Do we spend time with Christ each day in Word and sacrament, in the silence of prayer? And do we trust that he speaks to us today through the church and our bishop?
Christ says to his apostles: "he who hears you, hears me." The more we pray, the more we know our apostolic faith through deliberate study, the more we will recognize Christ’s voice authentically calling amid the many clamoring counterfeits in the world. Guided by the Good Shepherd, we will better lead and love those in our care.