If I can't brag about my boss's homilies, then I might as well quit. It's the end of the school year - a really, really tough school year, with all sorts of trials and tribulations with ol' SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAtan. So for me, this homily has no surprises, except that I am totally thrilled that Father Glen preached this today.
Enjoy. An offering will be taken up right at the end, lol.
Rev. Glen Mullan The True Shepherd May 3, 2009
4th Sunday of Easter (B)
Jesus presents us with a contrast between the Good Shepherd and the Hired Hand. This is something we observe in many different contexts, but it is specially important in the life of the Church.
The shepherd is the one who has responsibility for the flock. They are in his charge; they are on his shoulders; they belong to him.
The hired hand, on the other hand, works for pay. He is under contract to do a job according to certain terms, and that’s it. In the end, the flock doesn’t belong to him, and there are certain boundaries to his commitment. Once five-o-clock comes around, his duties are over, he is free to leave, and at that point the flock is not really his concern.
In other words, though he may do a good job according his qualifications, the hired hand is there for himself, the job is means to his own well-being. So, as Jesus points out, should there ever be a situation where a wolf attacks, he is not going to sacrifice himself for the flock. He will act to protect himself instead: he will run away, and not risk getting hurt in order to protect the flock.
This situation which Jesus describes is usually the case with any business. If you are hired to work at a convenience store and a robber comes in, you will not hesitate to give him anything he wants—you are not going to risk getting hurt for the sake of that business. On the other hand, if it is your own home or livelihood, you are more likely to fight an intruder.
But Jesus is not talking about a business, he is talking about people. There are certain jobs where being a shepherd or a hired hand makes a total difference. For instance, in the job of raising children, parents know what it means to be a shepherd. The shepherd has the responsibility to lead and guide the flock, providing nourishment, discipline, stability, and safety for the children. A shepherd’s work is motivated by love.
At times, parents have to entrust their children to others: babysitters, teachers, relatives, chaperones. And parents have one question in their mind: is this person going to be a shepherd who truly cares for my child, or is this person simply a hired hand who will put his own safety ahead of my child? Parents look for those people who will take up the role of a shepherd, serving the child in love rather than looking out for self-interest.
It is a very important distinction that Jesus is makes. And of course the context he is referring to is the Church community. The Church is not a business, it a family, God’s family. Therefore, if you are working in the Church in the name of God, you cannot be a hired hand; you are a shepherd after the example of the Good Shepherd. Beginning with the bishop and priests, but including all those who teach or serve God’s people, we must have the heart of the shepherd, and not be the hired hand.
Jesus says the Good Shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know him. This means there is a bond of love and trust between them. It doesn’t mean the human shepherd acting in the name of Jesus is 100% perfect, but it does mean that he truly loves the flock in Christ’s name, and seeks always to act for the true good of the flock, not considering his own self-interest.
This is a difficult challenge for anyone who tries to be a shepherd, whether parents, priests, or teachers. The “wolf” comes in many ways, and you have to be ready to stand up against it for love of the ones you are serving. Sometimes being the shepherd, you have to do things for the good of the family or flock that are unpopular, or cause you to be misunderstood. Sometimes your discipline and guidance cause a backlash and you have to get your own feelings hurt.
Children do not always like to be disciplined, and they can sometimes throw a fit if you try. It’s not easy being a true shepherd trying to guide the flock into the pastures where they will find peace and health. Many parents, for instance, just bribe their children with giving them what they want in order to get them to stay quiet and behave. Some parents allow their children to get away with all sorts of things, and even criticize others for trying to provide correction and discipline. In other words, sometimes the ones who are supposed to be the shepherds, can become allies of the wolf because they are neglecting the true good of their flock, allowing the flock to follow a pathway of wrongdoing and not acting to correct it because it is too much work.
It is not easy being a good shepherd, and Jesus knows that. But he gives the model to follow, and the strength to carry it out. What are some of the qualities of the Good Shepherd? Jesus was gentle and compassionate by nature; he was patient with the weak and merciful with the sinner who was trying. He ministered to the sheep who were injured and spent long hours instructing the ignorant.
But the other side of being a good shepherd is also important: Jesus was uncompromising with the stubborn, malicious, and hard-hearted. Remember how he spoke to the Pharisees and Scribes, calling them “hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones”? Remember how he told them they were not doing good, making their converts twice as fit for hell as they were?
Being a good shepherd, yes, means being gentle and compassionate. But it also means being tough and resolute with those blinded by pride and malice, and whose soul is in great danger. Above all, being a good shepherd means you are going to be politically incorrect, as Jesus was.
The worst thing in the church is when leaders are afraid to say it like it is; who worry about what people will think or who they might offend, or what difficulties the truth will cause. The worst thing in the Church is leaders who act simply as hired hands, avoiding the situations where they will have to put out their neck.
It is difficult being a true shepherd in the Church, and we need to pray for the bishops and priests, because there are tremendous pressures they face. Many bishops and priests prefer to work as hired hands: managers and administrators who want to keep everybody happy, keep peace at all costs, don’t rock the boat, never say the difficult but necessary truths that that will expose you to being maligned, hated, or crucified. (They never sued Jesus, but that was only because he didn’t have any money: they certainly did all the other things to him).
How many bishops and priests live in fear of what the wolf will do to them, and as a result they act only to placate and bribe the wolf? Anything, rather than look bad; anything, rather than incur the wrath of the media; anything, rather than make people unhappy or uncomfortable even if it is for their own good.
The wolf our shepherds face today is the same ancient enemy. Today the Devil continues to scatter and destroy the Church through the secularism of society: through a president and politicians who legalize the slaughter of unborn children; through a public educational system that indoctrinates youth in atheism, relativism, and moral indifference; through a media that glamorizes evil and promotes indecency; through a commercialism that puts greed ahead of God; through a philosophy of individualism that undermines authority and religion. And worst of all, through the disunity and scandal that happens within the Church (for instance, when a Catholic University such as Notre Dame invites and honors the wolf instead of the shepherd).
Bishops, priests, and parents face great challenges as they seek to protect their flock from the harmful influences around them. The true shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, and does not run when he sees the wolf coming. He may not even be strong enough to overcome the wolf and get torn to shreds, but the good shepherd knows he has no choice: his life is bound up with the flock, for better or for worse. He must lead, no matter the personal cost. And yet he serves freely and in this way receives his reward: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life freely.” May the Good Shepherd help us to follow his example.