May 1, 2023 | By Fr. Vincent Arisukwu
May 1, 2023 | By Fr. Vincent Arisukwu
WHERE AT THOUS, SHEPHERDS?
How come that Peter’s words have such a penetrating impact on the crowds who listen to him in the first reading of this weekend? How come that three thousand persons convert in just one day? The answer is simple; they found the apostles to be trustworthy shepherds. Peter speaks a different language to them from what they are used to hearing. Through the lives of the apostles, the people become aware of the dangers of the deceptive language of the corrupt leaders of their generation. They hear the truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They realize that Christ Jesus, suffered for them, as Peter says, “leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:20-21). Can we speak of such shepherds today?
Jesus speaks about his Good Shepherd attributes in the gospel. In him, the sheep find a guaranteed safety and protection. First, Jesus speaks about authenticity of authority or legitimacy which establishes a strong bond between the shepherd and the sheep. Because the shepherd speaks with authority, the sheep hear his voice as he calls them by name. The shepherd leads the sheep out to feed. The shepherd guides the sheep whereas the sheep abandon themselves to the care of the shepherd. They follow without hesitation, because they trust the shepherd. The sheep know strangers when they see them. They run away because the voice of the stranger is different from that of the shepherd.
In this passage, Jesus addresses himself thus, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” This gospel speaks to the 23rd Psalm, where David declares trust in the shepherd, “He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side. With your rod and your staff that give me courage.” A critical point in this gospel is that Jesus addresses the Pharisees and challenges their exploitative leadership styles. Jesus likens these to false shepherds and thieves with selfish tendencies. Those bad leaders have less interest in the affairs of those entrusted in their care, hence their mission is to steal, slaughter, and destroy. As a result, Jesus describes himself as the gate who keeps the robbers off from the sheep. The mission of the Good shepherd is to provide life in abundance for the sheep through sacrificing his own life.
On Thursday, April 27, 2023, I had the privilege of touring the Maryland State House in Annapolis. As the congressman, Delegate Nic Kipke walked me and my team around, it was evident that America is built on a history of sacrificial shepherds. The mission of these shepherds is to establish a United States whose foundation is trust and safety. Inside the State House, images of political icons and human life advocates stood tall. The imposing stature of President George Washington was all over the place and you could feel it. Voices of democracy like Frederick Douglas, George Calvert (1st Baron of Baltimore), as well as Harriet Tubman who risked her life to free slaves spoke loudly once you entered the rooms at the State house. As we toured the gorgeous edifice, my mind kept wondering how much things have changed in our time. America has experienced men and women who truly believed in the principles of love, justice, and true democracy. They were gate keepers for their people and bore witness to truth and values, men and women who saw politics as a tool for authentic service to human life and infrastructural development. Then, there was trust between the shepherds and their sheep.
Where are these shepherds today? How many of us trust our elected officials in politics today? How many of us today even know the names of our political representatives? How many of us know their voices? How many of us can sincerely say that we follow their lead? But, is it our fault that we do not know their voices? The human mind is wired for safety and everyone would naturally follow the voice that speaks safety. Humans naturally navigate towards trust and confidence, just as the Good Shepherd of the gospel explained.
Unfortunately, it is hard to find such leaders in our time. Whether back home in Nigeria where I come from or in the US where I reside, the people want to hear voices of leaders who mean what they say. The first irony is that we have leaders, who, today, do not enter the sheepfold through the gate. They “climb in by some other way” (Jn. 10:1) like thieves and robbers. At first, they lack the courage to speak, then they begin to speak from a faulty foundation, just because they are already inside. The people doubt their means of entry. How did they get in? The sheep only see them inside, even contrary to their expectation. Such leaders in Nigeria gain entrance through the back door. The gatekeeper does not open for them, so they steal in. The people cannot hear their voice because such is a voice of a robber. Equally, some of today’s leaders are strangers because they push for vicious policies. Those who advocate for policies that threaten the safety of the sheep cannot be trusted. How can the sheep listen to such voices? How do people listen to voices who vehemently push for abortion of babies in the womb? How can the sheep hear the voices of those who, rather than protect life, threaten it? How can the sheep follow such leaders?
That is one lesson from my tour to Maryland State House this week. Where are the shepherds of our time? The US seems to have gone way off from the ideologies of the founding fathers, the true Christian principles that protect and value human life above anything else. We need shepherds who have credibility and authority, like Peter and the apostles, shepherds who will communicate hope to the sheep. We need shepherds who will speak truth. We need shepherds in the church, in the families, in the schools. We need shepherds who, like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, could risk their lives for the sheep.We need shepherds who will tower like President George Washington, despite political interests and affiliations. We need shepherds to speak and defend the truth as taught by Jesus the Good Shepherd who came that all may have life in full.
Where are these shepherds?
Readings: 1st- Acts 2:14, 36-41; 2nd- 1 Pet. 2:20-25; Gospel- Jn. 10:1-10