Shepherds to one another
April 21, 2002

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

In the Old Testament, the title of shepherd was associated with religious leaders like Moses and the Judges. Later, it became associated with kingship and power. Thus the king was the shepherd of Israel. He exercised this power by caring for and protecting his people and by dispensing justice specially to the poor and the weak. But over the years, Israel's kings stopped acting as such. Thus God took the task of shepherding away from them: "I will claim my sheep from them,... that they may no longer be food for their mouths (Eze. 34:10)."

We are told that after the Fall, the gate of paradise was closed to prevent people from reclaiming Eden. At the appointed time though, Jesus, as the "the offspring of the woman" and as a royal descendant of the line of David, came as Good Shepherd to reopen the gate for God's flock to reenter and since then never stops to invite everyone to His fold.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus the Good Shepherd describes Himself as the "gate of the sheepfold" and the "voice" who "calls his own sheep by name,... leads them out,... walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice." On the other hand, His sheep "will not follow a stranger... because they do not recognize his voice." (Jn. 10:1-10)

In the morning, the Good Shepherd takes the sheep out to bring them to pasture and water. Throughout the day, He is on the look-out for predators which may attack them. Before dark, he leads them back to the pen. He then closes the gate to protect them from robbers and marauders. In short, He is always with the flock to address its every need, including and specially their redemption. Thus the cross mow stands as the stark symbol of the cost the Good Shepherd is willing to go to in order to secure the good of His flock.

As Christians, our life is not to be lived in the confines of our locked rooms but is to be engaged in the real world -- to be shepherds for others -- by our words and examples -- so that through us, others may get to know Christ and thus follow Him.

But because at times the Shepherd "walks ahead of the sheep," we may be left behind and thus not hear and follow His voice. This He allows because He never forces Himself on us - He always respects our freedom. Moreover, there are other voices fighting for our attention. This was what happened to Eve when she listened to the voice of the serpent. This was what happened to Judas when he listened to the tingling sound of the 30 pieces of silver. This is what happens to us when we drown that "still small voice" and heed the call of our inordinate desires.

Concretely, we may take a look at some of our young people who have gone astray. Since they were small, their parents have exercised their role of shepherd over them by teaching them to do what is right and avoid what is wrong. One day, a gangmate tells him, "Try this drug and you will get the `high' of your life." He tries, likes it, and before long, he gets hooked. Then he begins to lose not only his appetite for food but even for his studies, in effect losing not only his health but also his future.

Then there are our elders who do honest work to support their families. But at times, the voice of getting quick money is heard which proves to be hard to resist. Thus we see businessmen cheating their customers by overpricing their products or selling imitations at the price of the real ones, etc. In government offices, we see people succumbing to the "routine" of not allowing papers to move unless their palms are greased or engaging in illegal but big-money transactions so that they can buy what they want.

In all these instances, they have failed to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. But He continues to call and never gives up calling, hoping that one day His voice may be heard and followed again. He does this sometimes through conscientious people who refuse to be accomplices in other people's nefarious activities or through friends who inspire them to follow the straight path. Or He may even allow something dramatic to happen to them so that they may see the light again.

Throughout all this, the Good Shepherd has made other people do the shepherding for Him. This is as should be since after His Ascension, He has tasked us to continue His mission of shepherding under the guidance of His Spirit. As such, He wants us to bring back to the sheepfold those who have strayed through our words and good deeds.

When Cain was confronted by God with the murder of his brother Abel, he answered: "Am I my brother's keeper?" God left the question unanswered then. In assuming the task to shepherd one another, we now answer Cain's question in the way God would have and wants us to: "Yes, we are our brothers' keepers."