Called to be shepherds not hired help

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Philip Tay, OCD

Apr 19, 2024

4th Sunday of Easter (B)
Readings: Acts of the Apostle 4:8-12;
1 John 3:1-2;
Gospel: John 10:11-18

Today we celebrate Vocations Sunday, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel today tells of the difference between a shepherd and a hired man and concludes by showing us that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. To be fair, for many, if not most of us, we do not understand what the role of a shepherd is in the real sense. Most of us have never seen a flock of sheep and would be lost and bewildered if we were to be given the care of them for even one hour. However, we can draw some good traits of such shepherds and apply them in our mission as shepherds.

What is the role of a shepherd? A shepherd has to be with their flock at all times, especially when they are grazing, to ensure their safety. Very often, pastures for grazing are isolated places, far from human presence. In these places, the sheep need to be protected from attacks from other animals or from other humans who may steal them away. This is why shepherds who are true to their calling will always be on the look out for danger, constantly checking on the flock. They cannot afford to be distracted by anything.

When the sheep are not grazing, a shepherd must always be aware of the needs and welfare of their flock.

Even indoors, the flock will need to be cared for and nourished in other ways. Every sheep needs to be accounted for and the shepherd needs to ensure that all of them are well and not sickly. If any of them happen to fall ill, the shepherd needs to attend to them immediately, regardless of the hour of the day. A veteran shepherd will know immediately which is calling out and what physical conditions they are in. Such is the duty and responsibility of a shepherd.

A hired person, however, looks at their role differently. To them, their job is to make sure that the flock gets to the grazing field, spend some time there then bring the flock back and their job is done. They do not really care what happens as long as they get paid and they are usually more concerned with their own safety and comfort. In other words, they will do the minimum required and that is it. From here, we can see a clear distinction between a shepherd and a hired person.

If we translate this to human nature, it is not that much different between us and the sheep. All of us need some kind of attention, love and care from someone. We are certainly not animals because we can rationalise and think for ourselves but deep down, all of us will always want someone looking out for us.

This is also where we can see who is the shepherd and who is the hired person amongst us,
In the church, when we talk about shepherds, our minds will automatically think of our priests and bishops. However, that is a very narrow way of looking at things. We are all called to be shepherds and not just hired help. Vocations Sunday is not just about the call to priesthood. It is a call to all Catholics to re-examine ourselves and see how well we have lived out our own call, whatever state of life that we are in. In this day and age, it is rather challenging for the priest to do everything. This is why lay participation has been encouraged since the days of Vatican II. There are so many documents that speak about this aspect of the Church.

A parent is a shepherd to their children, a teacher is a shepherd to his students and so on. We cannot say that we are not shepherds because, if we really feel that way, then we are just hired help who will do the minimum for those under our care. A true shepherd is one who is selfless and will do everything that they can for their charge because they know them better than anyone else. Like Christ, all of us are called to be shepherds who give without counting the cost. A hired person will be calculative and petty but the true shepherd will not behave in such a manner.

Ultimately, the call of a true shepherd will always be based on the traits of the Good Shepherd, as given to us from today’s Gospel. This is our call and this is what Vocations Sunday is reminding us of – motivated by love, to be a good and true shepherd who will not hesitate to lay down his life for his flock.

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