Jesus uses the imagery familiar to his contemporaries to speak to us about the timeless reality governing leaders and the people they lead. This imagery comes from the Old Testament from the occupation of animal husbandry, in which a person who watches over the flock entrusted to him takes them to graze, to be watered, to be protected against dangers, and prevents them from being preyed upon by wild beasts, etc. This person takes the sheep in and out, stays with them day and night; develops familiarity with the flock. This imagery portrays the leaders and the people. It also expresses God’s care for his own. Occasioned by the dispute with the Pharisees and the leaders of his time, Jesus goes on to illustrate the differences between true leaders and false ones. The hired person is a destructive leader who cares only for his pay. It does not concern him that the people had to be organized into a fold, protected and guided by the one true Shepherd. Based on this fact, today, Jesus tells us: “I am the gate for the sheep… whoever enters through me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture… I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:7-10).” With his relationship with those entrusted to his care, Jesus lays down the model of leadership he wants in his holy Church.
Those who have the heart of a true shepherd do not stop to consider their own rights, duties, what the law asks of them, what agreement binds them to their master. The love they have for the sheep has no limit. They take risks for the sheep, suffer for the sheep and put their lives on the firing line in order to protect their flock. Jesus is both the shepherd and the gate who is guardian and liberator of the flock, protecting them by night and leading them to pasture by day. On the day pf Pentecost, St. Peter demonstrated the courage of Christian leadership. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed the Easter kerygma of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. He made a call to repentance, with the promise of forgiveness of sins, which fulfills the promise of the risen Jesus. In addition to these, Peter assured the hearers that they would receive a measure of what the risen Lord had received from the Father and given to the apostles on that day of Pentecost, which is the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.
As the result of Peter’s proclamation, those who became believers and were baptized were some three thousand. St. Peter is our model for what Jesus Christ expects of the leaders of his Church. He did not care for his own safety or comfort, but was only motivated by the love of the Lord and his flock entrusted into his hands. From the wealth of his own experiences, he counsels those who suffer in these words, “if you put up with suffering for doing what is right, this is acceptable in God’s eyes. It was for this you were called, since Christ suffered for you in just this way and left you an example, to have you follow in his footsteps (1 Peter 2:20-21).” He uses Christ as a model for those who undergo punishment either as slaves or for being Christians and not for any wrong they had done, but rather after doing what is right. The pattern from which that kind of insight is derived is Jesus himself who suffered for the redemption of humanity. It is not long ago we reflected on the suffering of the servant of God, the innocent one whose suffering was on behalf of others and is salvific. We saw this vicarious expiatory suffering, endured patiently in the song of the suffering servant of Yahweh, fulfilled in the passion and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. His suffering as the Savior of the world saw light at the end of the tunnel, in his resurrection. His resurrection is cause of joy for those who see him as model for suffering Christians.
In his resurrection, God has made Jesus both Lord and messiah, through whose wounds we are healed. The holy Church has declared today as the world day of prayers for holy vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Our prayer should be that God will enable us to conform into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Let us ask for leaders who will put their lives on the firing line in defends of those entrusted to their care. Let us ask the Lord of the harvest to send us shepherds after his own heart, in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.