By: Fr. Gerald Musa

The sheep is the most mentioned animal in the Bible. It is mentioned about 400 times. The Shepherd is often mentioned in relation with the sheep. Jeremiah was one of the Old Testament prophets who spoke about Shepherds. He was concerned about the emergence of bad shepherds (leaders) who exploited and led their sheep astray. Jeremiah lamented: “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them” (Jeremiah 50:6-7).

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke often about the sheep and the shepherd. He differentiated between the works of evil shepherds from good shepherds. Evil shepherds are merchants of death whose mission is to exploit and destroy the sheep. Today, so many people disguise as religious leaders promising to lead other people to greener pastures and they end up killing and destroying in the name of religion. For example, the ruthless Islamic sect Boko Haram has caused the death of thousands of people. They advocate for the Islamisation in a multi-religious Nigeria. They claim to be religious shepherds who want to bring about change and sanity in society, but are presently unleashing havoc, sorrows, tears and blood through their guns and bombs.

Around the world, there are people who have intolerant views about society and who abuse religion to perpetrate evil.

For example, in November 1996, a rebel and a guerilla leader in Uganda, Joseph Kony abducted 138 girls from St. Mary’s secondary School located in Aboke. Kony calls his rebellious group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and his mission is to establish a new Uganda in accordance with the Biblical 10 Commandments. Kony has turned out to be a destructive and evil shepherd who is destroying many lives and breaking the very commandments he claims to defend. He is a perfect example of the evil shepherds whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy in the name of the Lord. There are so many voices in different parts of the world today that claim to be good shepherds.

There are also countless gullible sheep that are unable to discern the voice of good shepherds from those of evil shepherds. Jesus expects the sheep to recognize the voice of a good shepherd and follow him/her from that of a stranger whose intent and purpose is to lead them astray. A good shepherd knows his sheep by name, gives life, saves, lays down his life for his sheep.

The Apostle Peter says even when the sheep go astray they will always return to the shepherd and guardian of their souls (1 Peter 2:25). This is the reason why he invites the ‘lost sheep’ back to the sheepfold (See Acts 2:14, 36-41).

Psalm 23, a popular Psalm vividly describes the role of a good shepherd. The good shepherd, like a good leader, makes his followers to lie in green pastures, leading them beside peaceful waters, restoring their souls, guiding them through the path of righteousness and preparing a table for them and nourishing them. Leaders are often called to be servant leaders just like Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples. Why can we not also talk about Shepherd leadership? A servant leader is distinguished by his selfless and humble service. On the other hand a shepherd leader stands out as a leader who defends and nourishes his followers/sheep. The sole mission of a shepherd is to lead his sheep to green pastures to ensure they have abundance of life. Therefore, a good leader possesses the qualities of a good servant and a good shepherd. Ultimately, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

NB: Today is Vocations Sunday – dedicated to praying for vocations to priestly and religious life.
4th Sunday of Easter/ Acts of the Apostles 2:1, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10

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