Jesus, the Good Shepherd

It sounds like a nightmare with a litany of sadness as we come to think about episodes of tragedy that make us reflect on young people on Staten Island who lost their lives. Their pictures were published in the paper recently. Let's take, for instance, a teen Jessica Tush who was killed and buried in the New Jersey woods. The culprit has become the focus of an outpouring of wrath on Staten Island. Mourners, however, stood silently and grieved for the victim - Jessica Tush. Then we also had a young college student, Anthony Priolo, who died Tuesday from injuries sustained in a car crash in Brooklyn. He was a Staten Islander, too, a lifelong Westerleigh resident, a musician and an honor student.

On the other hand, you may have read a story about this certain commuter, Wesley Autrey, who jumped onto a New York City subway to rescue an ailing teenager who had suffered a seizure and fallen onto the tracks at a Harlem Station. He was among those who were honored recently with Carnegie medals for heroism.

Situations like this remind us of the imagery of the sheep and the allegorical figure of Jesus as the good Shepherd in today's gospel. We are a lot like sheep and the Lord is our Shepherd. He knows his sheep and they know him. We need help in many ways especially in times of sorrows and difficulties. Hence, he invites us to think of him as our good Shepherd who provides comfort and hope for anyone in distress or in a dilemma.

We recall when Jesus started his ministry he saw multitudes as distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 936). Jesus, when teaching, constantly made use of metaphors and spoke in images that simply reflected the rural background of the area he was in. He was famous for teaching spiritual truths through story-telling like parables and other figures of speech.

Biblical patriarchs were nomadic shepherds in the desert. Some of its most famous names were shepherds; Abel (Gen. 5); Abraham (Gen 1216); Isaac (Gen 2614); Jacob (Gen 3029); Moses (Ex 31); David (2 Sam 78); Ezekiel (Ezek 3414-16); Amos (Amos 1;1). Moses, for instance, was a shepherd for 40 years in the deserts before God called him to lead his people out of Egypt. David, however, was a shepherd too before Samuel anointed him as king of Israel.

But Jesus as a good shepherd and the way to the truth and life (vv 11, 14) makes us aware that one is not only competent in skill but one who is known for his sympathy and caring attitude. He cares, shows concern and is interested in people's welfare like that subway commuter who saved the life of an ailing teenager. He is there ready to defend anyone regardless of color or creed.

We are all called to be like Jesus who cares for his flock and every word of the Good Shepherd is a call to discipleship. Pastors are also called Shepherds or Doctors of souls. We remember that incident after Jesus' resurrection. He challenged Peter as written in the gospel of John. Peter, do you love me Feed my sheep. Be a good shepherd.

Sheep by nature are not smart when it comes to safety but they are sensitive animals. They run off and they get lost. They just follow whatever the other sheep are doing, although it may be dangerous for them.

If we come to think of the past like in the Ancient Near East, shepherds had individual names for many of their sheep. In Wisconsin, for instance, I remember there are more cows and deer than sheep. Deer hunting and the Green Bay Packers are two secular religions they still observe. Some eastern shepherds, however, raise sheep for their wool rather than for food.

Nowadays our society has reached the point of constant struggle between good and bad. Many have opted to wander away from everything that has to do with their Christian faith. Let us still carry out our mission through our way of life that is simple and focused. Let us daily feed on God's word and allow it to nourish us spiritually.

The imagery of the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep is our model. We are like sheep that often are defenseless. Like the growing scenarios of tragedy in today's society, we do not know what tomorrow holds for us. Which is why, we need God's help. We need to remind ourselves of the duties we have as God's sheep. He is our good Shepherd who also wants his other sheep to be part of his flock. God bless you.