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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

I "AM" the Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd Fresco at the Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome, ~Third Century
The Good Shepherd, ca Third Century

As I researched Jesus as the Good Shepherd, it surprised me to find that almost without exception, all commentaries view the issue from the perspective of what Jesus did.  Almost, as if John’s story about Jesus being “The Good Shepherd” was almost like a LinkedIn profile.


In the commentaries and, in fact, in quite a few sermons, one could find what Jesus did as a Good Shepherd, and what the church and her leaders should do to act as Jesus did.


At least in my view, the problem is such approach is almost as it were our Lord’s job description – Jesus, Date of Birth, December 24, Year 1.  Profession, Good Shepherd.


However, as in many other circumstances, Jesus said, “I AM”.  I “AM” the Good Shepherd.”  The strong present tense indicates two dimensions.  First, it is a temporal affirmation.  Like, this is who I am right now.  But it also conveys the sense of timelessness.  “This is who I am – At the heart of my being is to be the Good Shepherd.”


In other words, Jesus did not do the work of a Good Shepherd because it was just a calling or even an inspired vocation.  He was “The” Good Shepherd, and so he acted whom He was at heart.


The difference is crucial.  In verse 13, Jesus tells the difference between those who are hired and those who are the real thing.  “When the going gets tough, hired workers run away because they don't care about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, and I place my own life on the line for the sake of the sheep.”


Knowing the difference between being hirelings and incarnating The Good Shepherd in their day and time was quite clear to the early disciples. The first lesson bears witness to their understanding.


On the one hand, the flag-bearers of the nitty-gritty of the Law, those who thought of themselves as the true “holy” followers of God where only concerned about the when, how, and why the apostles healed a man.  On the other hand, those who incarnated The Good Shepherd were only concerned about who the man was – a hurting sheep of the flock of the Almighty God.


As St John remarks in the second lesson, Christians are to be known by their love, not by the carefully worded statements of faith nor by how many people seat on their sanctuaries or how many followers they have in social media.


Now, the church is the Body of Christ in this world.  And because the church is the Body of Christ in this world, the difference in understanding of just being agents of the Good Shepherd or incarnating and becoming Good Shepherds for a lost world is crucial.


Just reading the headlines, overhearing a conversation at work, or being spiritually alive will soon make clear that many churches have their own agenda and priorities.  Others decide who can join them or how much and for how long people need to clean up their act before being allowed to join in “the saints”.


In some quarters, political agendas – from left and right – have taken over our Lord’s agenda.  Or what it is worse, some have decided that their agenda has to be our Lord’s agenda.


The Good Shepherd has no other agenda than the welfare of the flock.  The Good Shepherd goes out of his way to bring in the lost sheep.  The Good Shepherd grieves for the sheep that has been mauled and exploited by the champions of their own version of holiness.


Addressing a group of French priests, Pope Francis nailed the issue down.  He said, “I wish you to be shepherds with 'the smell of the sheep'.  Strip yourselves of your pre-constituted ideas, your dreams of greatness, your self-assertion, in order to put God and people at the center of your daily concerns.”[i]


And although Pope Francis was addressing the clergy, nonetheless, the teaching applies to the local congregations of the faithful.  For, isn’t it true that in some places the “smell of sheep” is what concerns most than opening the doors to hurting or lost souls?


One of the things that attract me the most to St David’s is that our community has taken at heart to incarnate the mission of the Good Shepherd in Aylett.


We pray for people of all sorts and conditions.  Some are known to us, of others we only know their name.  For some we know the nature of their plight, and for others, it is easy to realize that their state of affairs has a lot to do with the poor choices they made in their lives.  And, yet, we pray for all of them.


We receive visitors and anyone that would like to join us.  Just the other day, someone asked me, “How come there are not more of you?”  Could it be because we “smell of sheep” rather of incense and classy and sophisticated elites? 


Every year we raise funds to serve others, not to support our fancies – and Lord knows we could use some extra money to refinish the Church Hall, replace windows, paint, and carpet the sanctuary. 


Or we raise funds to support a full-time priest, with a long list of letters after his or her name.  Or to pay for full time professional choir, plenty of staff and nicely dressed receptionists.  And yes, full time videographers and Tik-Tokers too!


No.  Don’t take me wrong.  I don’t have anything against improving the building, having well-paid staff, or the largest organ this side of Alaska.  But as long as there are people hurting outside our doors, our agenda and priorities are set – Those of the Good Shepherd of the Flock.


So, if you are listening to these words, reading them our blog (The Slingshot), or they have been shared by one of us, if you resonate with what we understand our vision is – To incarnate The Good Shepherd – let me invite you to join us.  Be it physically, showing up here in church, or by communicating your intention to count yourself as one of us be it virtually and from wherever you are.


And if you have been burned by the institutional church, or even if you don’t really believe that there may be a place under heaven where people are received and loved as beloved children of our Heavenly Father, gives us a try.  No promises – other than what you will see is what you will get.


The other day I found a T-Shirt reading, “The Church is a Hospital for Sinners and not a Club for Saints.”  Of course, in our Lord’s days, T-shirts had not been invented.  But I fancy Jesus having no problem wearing one of those.


For The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sake of the flock, and not the other way around.


Let us pray,

Lord, we thank you for being our Good Shepherd.  Help us to understand that it is always a matter of being and not just of doing.  Now, hear our prayers and inspire us on a daily basis.  Fill us, we pray, with heavenly joy in following in your steps to the honor and glory of your Most Holy Father, our God, Creator and Redeemer of the world.  Amen.


Fr. Gustavo

[i] Pope Francis to priests: Be "shepherds with 'the smell of the sheep'",

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