Last Sunday, the Christian world celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel is familiar, inviting us to reflect on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks in terms of his flock and he as the shepherd, a depiction understood by the people during that time. In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people. The book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd. Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd.
In Christian imagery, a shepherd is one who enters through the gate. And the gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. As shepherd of his flock, Jesus speaks of himself as the gate for the sheep. And all who enter through him will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. Alluding to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus however said that those who came before him are thieves and robbers, and the sheep will not listen to them.
In the Gospel, Jesus castigates the Pharisees for misleading the people because of their legalistic and hypocritical interpretation of the Law of Moses. The true path to salvation, according to Jesus, is by following the real shepherd, Jesus himself, who is compassionate, merciful and will offer his life for the safety of his flock.
Christ as the good shepherd is the oldest depiction of Christ, appearing in the Roman catacombs, with Christ carrying the injured, straying sheep gently on His shoulders back to the sheepfold. This is a most popular image of Christ, which has always appealed to Christians. While us his sheep not being always guileless, with many going astray, there is reason to rejoice because of Christ as our shepherd who is genuinely concerned about our welfare.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were false shepherds who tried to mislead the people with their false teachings. Yet, despite all they did to prevent Christ from fulfilling his mission, they all failed. In the end, He rose from the dead and secure the salvation of his people.
Like in the days of old, today we still have false teachers. Fake news, alternative facts, sensationalist headlines, and messages of hate abound. They offer all sorts of teachings that purport to lead us to salvation and a utopian existence. Yet, these false teachers can only mislead and lead us to an existence worse than ever before. They can only present empty promises and live in delusion of a just, peaceful, and prosperous society. More often than not they can only offer an illusion, a mirage that dissembles but cannot offer reality.
A good example is the impeachment complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo. Clearly, it has no legal or political basis. Obviously, it is being done only to weaken her standing. No matter how one twists her words, a speech by itself can never be the basis of betrayal of public trust. Thankfully, no representative has endorsed it; in fact, one of those eyed to endorse the case, Rep. Jericho Nograles of the Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) party-list vehemently disowned it, even threatening disbarment charges against the lawyers who prepared the complaint. The President himself has described the charges as garbage not worth spending time on.
Another example of extreme malice is the reported letter sent to Harvard University that was intended to derail the admission of Aika Robredo to the Kennedy School of Government. Aside from again inventing the existence of corruption when there is none, the haters who sent the letter also showed their ignorance because it will be not be her family that will support Aika in Harvard. She, in fact, earned a scholarship. Having known Aika in the Ateneo de Manila University where she studies and having seen her perform as an assistant to former Undersecretary Alexander Pama, the disaster chief during the Aquino administration, I can say for sure that Aika has all the qualities to be a scholar in Harvard or any other university.
This inclusion of children of public officials in hate campaigns is a sad development. It is evil. Today, it is the daughter of Leni Robredo. A few months ago, even the grandchild of President Duterte was ridiculed because of his unusual name. In last year’s campaign, the children of Senator Grace Poe were viciously attacked because they were born dual citizens. Earlier, the children of VP Binay who were not public officials were also subject to the same attacks. There is no excuse for this behavior and there must be zero tolerance for it.
Unfortunately, many of us rely solely on our own strength, thinking, although mistakenly, that we do not need a shepherd. This is sheer foolishness. Our personal and human history will tell us that non-belief and non-reliance on God, the all-powerful and all-knowing God, always leads to worse troubles for ourselves. Sometimes we think we know all the facts of life while we are in total ignorance of the most basic fact of all, namely, the very purpose of life. To salve the pangs of unease, we often immerse ourselves deeper and deeper in the affairs and the passing pleasures of this temporary life. It is good that we have a merciful shepherd who is more than willing to look for the sheep gone astray and nurse him back to life. We know that if we follow Christ, the shepherd of our souls, we are on the way to the true life, the perfect life, the unending life which will have no admixture of sorrow, regret or pain. Where Christ is, there perfect happiness is, and there with God’s grace we hope and trust to be.
The Gospel last Sunday teaches us to be good shepherds in the mold of Christ. One who genuinely takes care of those who depends on us, is willing to sacrifice for those entrusted to their care. Hence pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials and politicians are all shepherds. Parents, as shepherds, must give their children good counsel, and nurture them with due regard to the welfare of their physical, moral and spiritual well being. Teachers must give their very best to impart their knowledge to their students. The rich must not live selfishly but must be willing to share their wealth to the less fortunate. And lastly, those in positions of power, they must rule not with an iron hand, abusing the power entrusted to them by the people but must govern with wisdom and with utmost regard to the well-being of all. All must be guided by the precepts of love, gentleness, and justice that Christ taught his disciples when he was still living with us.
Today, more than ever, the country needs the Good Shepherd so we can all be good shepherds, servant-leaders in the genuine sense of the word, of our institutions, organizations, communities, and families. Let’s all pray for that, especially now as the Easter season culminates in a few weeks.
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