The fourth Sunday of Easter in each liturgical year is known as the Good Shepherd Sunday. On this Sunday Jesus teaches us about good, selfless and true leadership and sets himself as the model by using the image of the good shepherd. He takes care of his flock. He leads his sheep to green pastures; he seeks out the lost sheep; and if needed, he dies for the sake of his sheep. In ancient times and even now the duty of a shepherd is one that is very hard and risky. He is one who is never off-duty and makes sure that his sheep are protected and constantly watched. His task was not only constant but dangerous, because he had to guard the flock against wild animals or predators, especially from wolves, lions, thieves and robbers who were ready at an opportunity to steal or kill his sheep. He even goes to the extent of giving up his life to protect his sheep. Therefore the role of a shepherd is far-sighted, sleepless, weather-beaten, always leaning on his staff and looking out over his scattered sheep. Every one of his sheep is on his heart and he loves every one of them.
On this Sunday of the good shepherd, the Lord used the imagery of a shepherd in delivering the truth about His own ministry and work to the people because at that time, many of the people were shepherds and those who dealt with the flock of sheep and goats, cattle and all animals reared for their meat or fleece or for milk. And by making the use of allegory and approximation to the role of shepherd in managing the flocks of animals, He wanted to show us how truly He is leading us down the right path, while at the same time loving each and every one of us so tenderly and dearly. In Jn. 10: 1-10 the meaning and significance of the Good Shepherd is brought forth to us, beginning with the Good Shepherd Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the model of all the shepherds of God’s people; who came into this world, seeking the souls of those who are lost and have died to sin, calling them back to his sheepfold and even giving up his life for their sake.
This is in contrast to the hired men and the religious leaders of his time who thought primarily of their own welfare and selfish interests; who were not ready to defend and fight for the safety of their sheep, they take off in time of danger, leaving the sheep to be attacked and scattered in fear and terror. They really do not care for their sheep. This notion of Shepherding by Jesus above is what we, his disciples and followers are called to live out, that is, to be shepherds in His image; by becoming selfless shepherds, who maintains constant vigilance, fearless courage, patient love for the flock and to gather all the people of God, especially those that have strayed and wandered from the sheepfold. On this Good Shepherd Sunday Christ speaks loudly and directly to those he has specially called and chosen to spread the good news – the bishops, priests, deacon, lay faithfuls’ and those who serve and who are to serve the nation as secular leaders or other spheres of life.
They are chosen from among the people to lead men to God, foster peaceful co-existence among peoples, tolerance and bring into the actualization the common good of all. They ought to resemble the one who called them by being selfless in their services to the Church and in the Society. They are humans, yes! But they must imitate Jesus who died for all. They should not work only for their own profit and comfort but for the welfare of all. They should be authentic and fearless in their proclamation of the gospel and be obedient to the authority of the Church and lastly avoid discriminations of all kinds. But unfortunately, the orientation and forms of leadership we experience often is a converse rendering of service to the self – self-service leadership (SSL henceforth), violence centered and the converting the common good of the people for personal use. This orientation (as it is an ongoing passing of faulty understanding of leadership) in the Church betrays the teachings of Jesus Christ, and in the society ignites agitations, rebellions and societal disarray. For too many of the leaders of our world, the human being is reduced to a cog, a wheel in a political system.
For Catholic Social teaching, the human person, the individual member of God’s holy flock lies always at the summit of the political and social order so that economics and politics are meant for the service of people and not the other way around. A leader in the Catholic understanding defends PEOPLE and not interests. There is a particular way of speaking of the church’s interests in our time, our powerful institutions of learning, our hospitals, our schools, our orphanages, Catholic media and so forth as if these were the things that truly matter. At the heart of it all, is the human person who, for the ideal shepherd is never reduced to a state of bland anonymity but a precious child of God, co-heirs with us to the promise of the Kingdom of God whose dignity and safety may never be compromised.
One thing those who occupy leadership positions in Church and society needs to know is that, leadership is a social contract. In the society, it is a contract between the leader and the people who bestowed on their leader the vote of confidence that the leaders may work for the common good. This contract is breached when there exist instead the tendering of the self-good of the leader. In the Church, it is a contract between the leader and Christ the Head to whom the faithful ought to see in their leaders. Despite the administrative character of leadership in the Church to which we can still ascribe the contract to be between the leader and the faithful, every leadership position in the Church is accountable to Jesus Christ as the Head.
That is why the voice of the conscience for discernment becomes paramount, for leadership in the Church is an imitation of Christ’s leadership – a leadership of service whence He said: “… so, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet…” (John 13:13-17). Hence, a democratic style of leadership becomes essential not just in the society at large but, also to a guided degree in the Church that is, authoritative in principle however, democratic as possible in application. Agreeably, a failed leadership makes provision for a shrouded mist of piety and causes unrest in society. According to Fr Kentenich, in his analogy of the relationship between the head and the body, the leader (the head) has three functions with regard to the led (the body): firstly, the leader is a supreme figure (rationeprincipalitatis / excellentiae).
It marks the fact that the leader has a different position amongst the people. This is a reality that demands that the leader excels in upholding the values of the people. The second function is tied to the principle of unity (rationeunionis). That is, the leader creates unity in the whole system – does not build walls of marginalization, segregation, and sectionalism. These vices develop when there is the absence or non-existence of productive tolerance and mutual understanding fostered by the ailing leadership. Consequently, once a leader loses the capacity to assure and provide for unity, it becomes a call for insecurity in faith and societal coexistence. Thirdly, the leader is the source of vital forces thereby keeping everything together by his or her life (rationevivificaevirtutis). The leader exemplifies! Unfortunately, the growing form of SSL in our world today is a lousy leadership. A leadership coated by the vainglory of sympathy and deceit; where issues and projects (if virtual) are blown out of proportion in the exterior to the detriment of the true basic and primary needs of the people.
Disappointingly, the led to a noticeable degree, lend their applause to such leadership by their acclamation borne out of the meager compensation offered to them by these leaders. Generally, the positions of leadership we have today have to do more with the leaders ‘ruling’ and not ‘leading’. Despite this distinction, we still prefer to use and make reference to the latter instead of the former in order to convey that which is proper to our common development and progress. Therefore, ‘ruling’ is SSL and ‘leading’ is the proper exercise of the call to service in leadership. Obviously, you cannot get blood out of a stone. A failed leadership is like a stone which is deceptively hoped to provide for the blood of growth in faith and assurance in societal sustenance. This hence brings to fore the challenges of lack of interior coordination in the system of leadership and the exterior relationship between those with positions of leadership and those they are leading.
Therefore, it is paramount that leadership positions be avenues to attend to and uphold values that promote affective understanding and coexistence. That is being a Good Shepherd and that is service per excellence. The illusive concept and drives for “World Peace” has in no way helped to ameliorate the versions of acrimonies in national orientation and international relationships; what we have as the days unfold are wars and unrest in various magnitudes. No wonder Peter Tosh once sang: “…I don’t want no peace, I want equal right and justice…” For the peace preached by the leadership of our times is a ‘self-beneficial peace’. Hence, we say that not just peace, equality, justice, but most importantly equity. This is achievable when the leader has a natural feeling to serve, to serve first. It eradicates the SSL, bad governance and bad shepherds in Church and society, and concurring with Robert K. Greenleaf who with his “Servant Leadership” philosophy shows that a primary disposition to serve creates attitudes that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.
Thus, any leadership position that fails in not imitating the Good Shepherd and the crucible of service is inimical. On this Sunday of the Good Shepherd, we have the responsibility to pray for all our leaders both in Church and Society, so that they may be true to their calling and to discharge their duties according to the mind of the Good shepherd who is Christ Himself and more especially for those who are struggling to live out their calling as authentic shepherds. Let us love them and pray for them for a change of heart so as to do what they have been called for and give it their best