In today’s gospel, Jesus Christ makes a distinction between the good shepherd and the bad shepherd. The good shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him. He is willing to lay down his life for his sheep; whereas, the bad shepherd works for money. He does not have a personal relationship with the sheep except for the money that he receives. When the sheep are being attacked, he runs away and leaves them to be killed. It begs the question why he is the shepherd. Scientists who study animals tell us that the sheep were one of the first animals to be domesticated. The reason is because there was no way they were going to survive in the wild. They did not have the strength to withstand other animals that will attack them. It is the shepherd’s job to give them protection when they are taken to the fields.
When Jesus Christ describes himself as the “good shepherd” in the gospel today, he is saying to us that he is the one providing protection to us. He is inviting us to come from the wilderness in which we find ourselves to the protection of a shepherd. He is willing to lay down his life for us all. Why would he do this? He does this because we belong to him. It is not because we merit this treatment. Jesus Christ has laid down his life already for every one of us. Rather than see us roaming aimlessly in the wilderness of sin and being devoured by Satan, Jesus Christ has offered his life as saving grace for all of us.
Why will Christ do this? The reason is not because we are perfect. St. Paul tells us that Christ loved us and died for us while we were still sinners. He did it because we are a special people. Of all of God creatures, we are the only ones created in the image and likeness of God. We are God’s special people. Again and again throughout our history, our ancestors turned away from God, wandered away like sheep without a shepherd, yet, God continued to send prophets to call them back to himself. In our own time, he sent Jesus Christ as our savior. He died on the cross for us. This is proof of his love for us. In today’s second reading, the evangelist John tells us that we are children of God. The reason the world does not know that we are children of God is because they do not know God. The question then is this; do we know that we are children of God? The answer to this question should not just come from our heads but also from our hearts. Do we know who we are? We are not slaves. We are not servants. We are children of God. The evangelist also says, what we shall be has not yet been revealed to us. When it is revealed to us, we shall see God as he really is. What does the evangelist mean? As children of God, we are coheirs with Christ of the kingdom of God. This means, that our inheritance is the kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom, we shall see God face to face and dine at the same banquet table with him.
Knowing our identity helps us to go through the difficulties and challenges we face in this world. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ does not automatically erase the pain and difficulties involved in living in this world. It is difficult to live in the world. Sometimes it feels like we are walking through the valley of the shadow of darkness. You may be walking in the valley of illness; you may have found yourself in the valley of financial problems; it may be the valley of death. Whatever valley you find yourself right now, I want to assure you that Jesus Christ is your hope and your strength. He is the one that is leading the way and he will lead you out of that valley. What is required of you is to trust that Jesus Christ is going ahead of you and he will lead you to safety. He is the good shepherd and we can trust that we are not alone in our valleys.
We are also called upon to be good shepherds to others. We need to be shepherds of our families, friends, colleagues, neighbors, members of our Christian family and other members of society. When they go through their own valleys, we must bring the good news of Jesus, the good shepherd. We must bring Christ protection to them through our words and actions. We must be the light of Christ that shines through their path and leads them to safety. We are called by Jesus Christ to be good shepherds. A good shepherd is not selfish. A good shepherd does not think only of what is good for him but he thinks of what is good for his flock. We must always think of what is good for those we shepherd.
Our challenge this week is to be good shepherds. I will ask you to do one thing this week that is inconvenient for you for the convenience of another person. My prayer for you is that God will give you the courage and the strength to carry out this challenge.