Fourth Sunday of Easter

The good and bad shepherds

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep  that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” Jn 10,11-18

“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. With this announcement, Jesus sets the distance between himself and the bad shepherds who are thus defined by the prophet Ezekiel: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured” (Ez 34,2-3).This denunciation makes us reflect on the role of the “leader” in the gospel, whether it be the family father, the entrepreneur, the head of government or the bishop of a diocese. The head – Jesus says today – is the one who gives his life for his family, his collaborators, the citizens and the believers. Giving your own life means to give your time and commitment; it means taking responsibility, and when there are financial constraints, it is to be the last to be paid; it means to be the first to pay taxes, not to pursue financial speculation and have an exemplary private life. In the light of this evangelical definition of leader, we have a litmus test to evaluate ourselves first, and besides also the others’ behaviour, when we are asked to do so: for example, when voting in political, administrative elections or during other contexts. It seems to us that nowadays we are often faced with “mercenaries”, who cares nothing for the sheep, with politicians who increase their already substantial salaries, with entrepreneurs who only think about profit and increasing their capital and with parents who, as soon as the marriage begins to crack, split up immediately leaving their children and the weaker spouse in distress. This category, unfortunately, also include some church manipulators of capital and bishops who take advantage of their position to commit unspeakable crimes. If this is the social framework that is in front of us – and it seems to us that it is just like that – what can we do in our circle in order to improve the situation? The suggestions are, in each case, different, but today’s gospel page allows us to reduce them down to just two: if we are leaders we must be  willing to give our life for the sheep, and if we are collaborators we must be obedient as Jesus was to the Father: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life… This command I have received from my Father”. Even in the role of co-workers you can give your life, you needn’t be leaders.

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