When someone puts the question. “Do you know this person?”, it is usually not whether you have heard of or read about this person. It is more likely to mean whether you have some personal contact or encountered this person as more than just an acquaintance. In an ordinary sense, without trying to define “knowledge” in an epistemological sense, having some personal relationship with the person, whether formal or informal, would somewhat qualify a person to be able to say that “I know that person!”
In the Gospel today, Jesus is presented as the Good Shepherd. Even though this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd was a popular image found in the catacombs of the early Church, only in the Gospel of John do we read Jesus proclaiming Himself to be the Good Shepherd. For the early Christians, they knew that this image of the good shepherd, which is also found in the Old Testament, reflected a shepherd who is concerned for his sheep for he leads them with care, defends them, serves their needs, and even suffers with them – all of which characterises the person of Jesus.
It in this context that Jesus will say, “I know my own and my own know me”. The Hebrew understanding of the word “to know” does not simply mean to perceive or be familiar with; it would indicate that there is a personal involvement or an intimate relationship. It is because of this personal and intimate involvement that Jesus will speak in this brief passage about the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep four times – an act of total and unconditional love. Jesus winds up his parable by emphasising the ultimate price of being a good shepherd.
For most of us, the image of the Good Shepherd is linked to Jesus’ sympathetic and meek behaviour to those who have strayed away from His path. Though it is not wrong to see it in that way, the Jesus that we encounter in this passage is not only about “the sheep” listening to the voice of the shepherd. This passage also reveals to us Jesus’ free and sacrificial decision to lay down His life for those whom the Father has entrusted to Him so as to form one flock. The sacrificial nature of the Good Shepherd is founded only on one thing – that is love.
In some ways, the contrasting image of the good and bad shepherd that we hear in the Gospel, is also symbolises the vivid contrast to what we see and hear of the world that we live in today. We are surrounded by selfishness, deception, greed, falsehood, dishonesty – all of which is not the nature of a good shepherd. In the midst of all of these, how well do we imitate the Good Shepherd and become good shepherds ourselves?
When we start imitating the Good Shepherd, we gradually move away from being sheep to being shepherds in our own right – from sheep mentality to shepherd mentality. But why? If we look at the nature of the sheep, they are easy targets for predators, and rely on shepherds for protection and care. Sheep also are not very smart and are given to herd mentality. Sheep tend to follow each other blindly, not thinking about where they are going or the dangers that might be waiting for them – certainly not what a Christian disciple should be.
Though we need shepherds to lead us, we are also called to be good shepherds to one another, but how? Firstly, the word of God that we listen to each time at Mass must motivate us to inspire others to know the values of the Gospel. In our daily lives, we must shine brightly by living joyfully the example of Jesus Christ. Secondly, during this time of disruption, there are many who feel alienated from our faith in Jesus and even from one another. Sharing our faith-story can welcome people back to Jesus, our source of love and mercy. As shepherds we need to help the return of the people who have “wandered” away from Church during this lockdown by finding ways to reconnect with them.
In the past, this Sunday’s readings may have reminded us that we are the sheep of the Lord; however, let us remind ourselves today that we are also His shepherds. What we are called to do is to lead by good examples that are founded on the Gospel values of love, mercy, and compassion. When we do this, we contribute to building up our community of faith and by working to stay together, we build unity. Let us not always look for a good shepherd to follow because by virtue of our baptism, we are also sent out as shepherds to lead others onto the path of Jesus. The call to listen and follow Jesus on Good Shepherd Sunday is also call to all of us to be good shepherds for one another.
Fourth Sunday of Easter (25 April 2021)