4th Sunday of Easter Year B
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Let us follow in His footsteps.
My dear friend, how has God called you to be a leader? Most of us assume leadership positions in our organisations – in our churches, workplaces, social clubs, community groups, etc. While the rest of us may not assume former leadership roles in our organisations, we are nevertheless called to be leaders in our individual sphere of life – we may be parents, uncles, aunties, older siblings, teachers and mentors to someone.
Leaders are important in our lives. A good leader places the interest of the people before his/herself. He/She is committed and is not afraid of obstacles. A good leader sets a vision for the organisation; motivates others and harness the best out of everyone. A good leader serves as a good role model to us. In times to come, when a younger leader emerges, a good leader willingly steps aside so that the organisation is renewed with new ideas and new zest, to enable the organisation to grow from strengths to strengths. On the other hand, a poor leader places his/her self-interest above that of the people. A poor leader is more concerned about his/he own gratification; that he/she is being recognised and glorified for his/her efforts. A poor leader does not genuinely care about the people he/she leads. They are simply means to his/her selfish ends. A poor leader is often insecure, so much so that when a new leader emerges, he/she feels threatened. He/She would stifle and sabotage the emerging leader in order to safeguard his/her position. Good leaders inspire and nurture us. Poor leaders disenchant and scandalise us. We see examples of good and poor leaders in our organisations often, sadly, these also include our churches.
We celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday this weekend. Jesus the Good Shepherd is the quintessential good leader.
In the times of the Divided Kingdom (around 900-700BC), the people were being led astray by poor religious leaders. In Ez 34:11-12 and Jer 23:3, God promised that He Himself will become his people’s shepherd, to seek them out and rescue them. In this week’s Gospel, in a clear reference to these passages, Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd (verse 11). The Good Shepherd is the definitive good religious leader. So good is the Good Shepherd that He laid down his life for his sheep. Jesus died for us not just so that our sins may be forgiven. In dying for our sake, He has set us a good example, so that we may follow in His footsteps. He is setting up Himself as our role model. In the First Reading this week, we see how Peter followed Jesus’ footsteps.
Acts 3:1-8 tells the story of how Peter healed a lamed man sitting at the gate of the temple. On being healed, the man started “walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God” (Acts 3:8-9). On hearing about the incident, what did the religious leaders do? Did they use the opportunity to preach for conversion? Did they use the occasion to preach repentance? Did they praise God? No, they didn’t. Instead, they sought to stifle Peter. The rulers, elders, scribes and those of the high-priestly family assembled in Jerusalem (Acts 4:5-6). The captured Peter and questioned Peter’s authority: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7) They did the same to Jesus during His lifetime. When Jesus preached the Good News in the temple, they interrogated Jesus, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” (Lk 20:2) Like the poor leaders that came before them, the religious leaders were insecure. They were afraid that Peter’s popularity might surpass theirs. So they seek to undermine Peter by questioning his authority, as they did with Jesus in the temple. With Jesus being a lowly carpenter and Peter being a lowly fisherman, this was a cunning plan indeed to undermine Jesus’ and Peter’s standings before the people. The religious leaders were blind to Jesus’ and Peter’s teachings or even the miracles they performed. All they were concerned with is their own self-interest. In the First Reading this week, we hear Peter’s bold response, by declaring that it is by the power of Jesus that he was able to preach and perform miracles. In a thinly veiled criticism of the religious leaders, Peter boldly referred Jesus as cornerstone that the builders rejected (verse 11). The statement is a clear reference to Psalms 118:22, a phrase the members of the religious leaders knew too well: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Yes, the High Priest and his followers were those foolish builders. So blinded by their pride and insecurity that they rejected the cornerstone God placed before them. Imagine the lowly fisherman Peter, having been imprisoned by the religious leaders, condemning his captors for rejecting and crucifying Jesus! What courage! What commitment!
My dear brother and sisters, let us ask ourselves: what about me? What kind of leader am I? Am I insecure, short-sighted and self-serving like the religious leaders? Or am I selfless, committed and courageous like Peter? In our churches, where a poor leader has scandalised the community, what do I do? Do I keep quiet? Or worse, do I allow myself to be scandalised, disenchanted and walked away? Or do I follow in Jesus’ and Peter’s footstep? Do I show commitment and courage? Do I lovingly point out the mistakes of the leader so that he/she can become a better leader; or perhaps step aside for a better leader? Make no mistake, it is not easy to do that. In choosing a courageous course of action, we could face persecution like Jesus and Peter did. Jesus and Peter knew they would be persecuted but they did it anyway. Why? Because ultimately, as the Second Reading explains, just as God loves all His children (verse 1), good leaders love the people God places under their leadership. Because of human weaknesses, poor leaders often do not understand the damages they are causing to themselves and the people under them. It is the duty of every Christian to lead other Christians to God, even those who scandalise and hurt me. For inherent in me is the potential to grow, to become more Christ-like – even if I am one who is scandalised by a poor leader or am a poor leader myself. As St John wrote in the Second Reading, “what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (verse 2)
May God give us the wisdom to discern, the courage to act, and the grace to heal. Amen.