Quiet, good shepherds overseas

Al Cariño
August 11, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

In a parable as simple as The Good Shepherd's, Jesus presents His Father's plan for us and His role in it (Jn. 10:11-18). In the Old Testament, the theme of shepherd is associated with kingship and power. The shepherd of Israel is the king. As such, he cares, provides for and protects his people. Jesus now says, "I am the good shepherd."

As Good Shepherd, Jesus brings His sheep to the pasture and water of the Gospel which includes the Eucharist. His relationship with them is intimate: "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." Unlike hired hands, He stays with the flock and protects it from the temptations of predators. When one strays through sin or is distressed by personal and other problems, He leaves the rest to look for him. When He finds him, He offers soothing words of consolation, forgives him for straying, and finally brings him back to the fold.

He is also concerned with those who are not of His fold, the Gentiles, those who do not belong to the original Chosen People. "I have other sheep that are not of this fold.... They too will listen to my voice." Then, "there shall be one flock and one shepherd."

Finally, in God's plan, sin, which we inherit and commit, can only be purged with the sacrifice of the Good Shepherd's life. Thus Jesus says, "I lay down my life for the sheep."

Jesus as Good Shepherd is the incarnation of the loving and caring concern of the Father for all of us, His children.

The parable of the Good Shepherd makes me think of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) as good shepherds in some ways. Due to the scarcity of good-paying jobs here and in their desire to provide better for their families and loved ones, they leave their homes for better-paying jobs abroad. True, some OFWs are exploited and abused and we hope that the government will take strong measures to correct this situation. But there is a positive side to our seven million overseas workers, namely, their being good shepherds - which is every Christian's task -- in foreign lands.

Just consider. Many of them are educated, some even highly educated. And most of them are Catholics. As domestics, as many of our female OFWs are, they work in the houses while their employers go to work. One of their primary tasks is to take care of the children. Even if they do not directly teach them the Christian faith, it may still rub off to the children through what they see and hear from their care-givers.

Moreover, the OFWs practice their faith in their host countries, where it is allowed. They participate in the Sunday Eucharist and sing their lovely Filipino songs. And how! They also socialize among themselves after Mass and attend to those in need. Certainly, these do not go unnoticed to the citizens of their host countries. They may even see God at work in our OFWs and through the example of their lives, may accept Jesus in faith.

The Holy Spirit may be working through our OFWs so that the Gospel will be proclaimed to other nations. For did not the Good Shepherd say, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep fold. I must bring them in also?" Whether they know it or not, the Church, by its very nature, is missionary. And what is the Church? The entire People of God - clergy and laity alike. As such, it is our individual and common responsibility to proclaim God's saving work. Our OFWs are not exempted from this responsibility and perhaps even unknowingly, they are already carrying this out. Thus, if the government honors them as its new heroes, the Church may also honor them as her new missionaries.

We may ask, "Do our OFWs have to go through all the pains of leaving their families and for some, even suffer exploitation and abuse?" The experience of the early Church can help us find an answer. For proclaiming Jesus and doing wonders in His Name, the religious leaders of the Jews warned, then imprisoned and finally persecuted those who preached or had embraced the new faith. Thus some of them left Jerusalem or even Israel altogether, and go to other countries where they continued proclaiming the wonderful works wrought by God in Jesus. They had became foreign missionaries! Did they suffer? Yes. They left their families and the comforts of homes. A good number of them even died as martyrs in their new found homes.

The history of the Church is replete with instances of the Holy Spirit making the most out of bad situations. May we not say the same of our OFWs?

As we pray that the Good Shepherd continue to care for and bless our OFWs with better working and living conditions and with a strong and lively faith, let us also pray for those they have left behind, specially for the integrity of their families. Finally, let us pray for each other so that we, in our own little ways, may be good shepherds to all with whom we come in contact.